South Louisiana Community College’s new $9.2 million campus in St. Martinville could be open by next fall.

A crowd of state legislators, local leaders and education officials braved the chilly weather Wednesday afternoon to officially break ground at an old sugar cane field off La. 31 in St. Martinville, the site of SLCC’s planned 36,000-square-foot Evangeline Campus.

The excitement was palpable in an area that doesn’t see a lot big projects come its way.

“I’m going to venture to say this is the most money spent on a state project in this parish, ever,” St. Martin Parish President Guy Cormier said.

SLCC Chancellor Natalie Harder said the new campus should be open by the fall of 2015 or the spring of 2016.

She said enrollment is already up at the existing St. Martinville campus, a rise she attributes to excitement about the new facility.

“There are jobs waiting to be filled by graduates of SLCC from St. Martin Parish,” Harder said.

The Evangeline Campus will offer general education programs as well as specialized training in nursing, automotive repair and welding.

“And that’s just to start,” Harder said.

The new campus, which will replace a smaller 1960s-era facility on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in St. Martinville, has been in the planning stages for about five years.

Construction was initially set to start in 2013 on property across from the existing campus, but SLCC officials decided to seek a site away from residential areas that would allow space for future expansions.

A request for land donations from SLCC prompted a bidding war of sorts from two donors, one offering property to lure the new campus to Breaux Bridge and another to keep it in St. Martinville.

SLCC opted to stay in St. Martinville and is building the facility on 9 acres donated by the Levert family near the intersection of La. 31 and Moore Avenue.

The site is next to the old Martin Mills textile plant, a sprawling facility that served as a Fruit of the Loom factory until the garment company closed its plant there in 2001 and laid off more than 3,000 workers.

State Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, said the new, state-of-the-art SLCC campus could be a shot in the arm for the area.

“You are going to see more business here, and you are going to see more commerce here,” Mills said.

SLCC operates campuses in Abbeville, Crowley, Franklin, Lafayette, New Iberia, Opelousas, St. Martinville and Ville Platte.

The new Evangeline Campus facility was funded by the Legislature as part of a $173.7 million bond package for construction projects on community and technical college campuses across the state.