Gov. Edwards celebrates Donaldsonville early childhood center; CF Industries donates $1 million

Michael Tortorich
Donaldsonville Chief
State and local leaders pose with officials from CF Industries, which donated $1 million toward educational programming.

Gov. John Bel Edwards and area officials gathered at the newly renovated B. Lemann and Bro. building in Donaldsonville the morning of Oct. 6 to commemorate the beginning of the early childhood learning initiative, as well as announce a $1 million investment over five years from CF Industries.

Several Ascension Parish and City of Donaldsonville leaders attended the opening of the interim location for the early childhood learning center, which will be permanently at the site of the former West Ascension Elementary school campus along St. Patrick Street. Congressman Troy Carter, state Sen. Ed Price, and state Rep. Ken Brass were among the officials who spoke during the event.

Gov. John Bel  Edwards smiles as he addresses the crowd at the B. Lemann and Bro. building.

As the permanent site will take an estimated two years to construct, Ascension Parish officials have said the first floor of the historic B. Lemann and Bro. building could be utilized sooner for the program.

The move to the permanent location at 1200 St. Patrick Street would be about January 2025.

Wanda August interacts with the children invited to attend the ceremony.

The partnership has been a collaborative effort with Ascension Parish government, the Ascension Parish School Board, the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office, the Ascension Parish Library, the City of Donaldsonville, and other entities.

Representatives from Nicholls State University in Thibodaux have been involved with the implementation of the program.

U.S. Rep. Troy Carter, who represents Louisiana's second congressional district, smiles as he greets an attendee.

James Neville of Neville Development and partner Kevin Kelly invested in the development of the property in Donaldsonville's historic district, which is the second largest in the state behind only New Orleans. It includes a mixed-income, mixed use project consisting of 42 units of artist-preferred housing, known as Lemann Art Lofts. The commercial space on the ground flood spans 7,600 feet.

Historically, the building dates back to the 1870s and was designed and built by architect James Freret, according to the Donaldsonville Chief archive.

A large crowd gathered at the B. Lemann and Bro. building for the event.

For many decades it served the region as a general store, which offered a variety of goods, and eventually included cars and tractors. Some have likened it to a Walmart of its era.

At one point in addressing the crowd, Edwards turned to a group of children in attendance and said: "Everything we are doing is for you."

Gov. John Bel Edwards shares a smile with children attending the event.

Ascension Parish does not have a juvenile detention center of its own. The parish maintains a contract with St. Bernard Parish, which is east of New Orleans, for the housing of juveniles. Instead of punitive measures, parish officials have said they are focusing on prevention by offering the early childhood initiative.

"It really means a lot to me to be here and preserve a building like this and put it to good use," Edwards said.

PHOTO GALLERY: Gov. John Bel Edwards visits Donaldsonville, touts early childhood center