2Students at St. Helena College and Career Academy received a gift when they returned to school after the winter break.

The school opened its doors to the new $8 million facility for the first time on Jan. 6.

The building has 12 classrooms, a science lab and administrative offices.

The students roamed up and down the halls with smiles on their faces as they checked out details of their new school building.

In November 2008, an early morning fire destroyed most of the school. Students had to attend classes in trailers and older buildings.

The opening of the new school comes as a relief to the seventh- to 12th-grade students.

“It’s what our students and our community deserves because we have smart children who want to be successful. They want people to know that they deserve the same things that anyone else in any other school system is receiving,” St. Helena Parish Schools Superintendent Kelli Joseph said.

While students were able to check out the new facilities, the official opening of the school is Friday, when a ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held.

The $13 million project, which is funded largely through the passage of a local property tax millage, also includes a renovated auditorium and the construction of a new football stadium, field house and eight-lane track on the high school campus.

The football and track stadium, which is scheduled for completion by the start of the 2015 football season, has been financed, in part, by a $90,000 zero-interest loan through the Louisiana Public Facilities Authority, according to a news release from LPFA.

Joseph explained construction of the St. Helena Arts and Technology Academy, which will house students in prekindergarten through sixth grade, is scheduled to begin before the end of this year.

“Students of St. Helena Parish School District had never experienced learning in a real environment that was conducive to learning. Their buildings were old, outdated and worn. Now, they will be housed in a state-of-the-art facility that will truly show them that their community cares about their educational well-being,” Joseph said.

The vote to approve the $8 million property tax that is funding construction and other improvements in the district, including staff pay increases, was the first successful tax measure in two decades, Joseph said.

“The community saw that we were putting children first, and I think it made all the difference,” she said.

 Joseph said her leadership team and the School Board implemented a number of changes to the operational and academic structure that have resulted in gains in student achievement and an elimination of the district’s budget deficit.

The $13 million rebuilding project includes about $8 million for the high school campus. About $1.3 million of that is dedicated to the football and track stadium and field house. The no-interest loan from LPFA’s Rural Development Zero Interest Loan Program will save the district a little more than $4,000 in interest payments, according to reports from LPFA.

“The people of St. Helena Parish are proud, not only of these new facilities, but of the improvements underway in the academic and operational aspects of the school system. We’re pleased to play a part in the district’s master plan and wish them every success with this important endeavor,” said LPFA Vice President of Economic and Program Development Martin Walke.