LUTCHER — The St. James High School Wildcats football team can finally plant its cleats in the FieldTurf at its new stadium near Vacherie.
The parish School Board cleared the way Thursday in a special meeting for players to make use of the new synthetic field inside their new off-campus stadium, which is undergoing the final construction touches.
School Superintendent Alonzo “Lonnie” Luce said the new stadium, which is near the intersection of La. 3127 and La. 20, will be cleared for use during another special board meeting at 8 a.m. Wednesday.
That’s one day before the Wildcats are scheduled to take on West St. John High School in the Railroad Classic in the new stadium at 7 p.m. Sept. 4.
“There are a couple things on the punch list we want touched up before we’re done,” Luce said.
The Wildcats were at a season-opening jamboree Thursday in Donaldsonville.
The board opened up use of the new field by accepting it as substantially complete. The move means that work is essentially finished and shifts insurance liability from the builder to school system. The board is expected to consider the same substantially complete status for the stadium Wednesday morning.
James Mitchell, assistant schools maintenance supervisor and construction engineer on the project, told board members before they voted Thursday that the field checked out and was ready. Mitchell said later that the stadium will be ready next week.
The School Board installed FieldTurf at the Lutcher High School stadium on the east bank a few years ago during an earlier round of upgrades.
The board bought the St. James High stadium turf at that time as well but had the surface in storage until the new stadium was ready.
School Board members said they planned for a small ceremony to mark the St. James High stadium’s opening Sept. 4 after game warm-ups but before it starts.
“I’ll be there next week,” School Board member Carol Lambert added.
The stadium is on a 54-acre tract and is expected to be the toehold for a new St. James High School complex a few years in the planning and estimated to cost more than $30 million to build.
School officials are moving southward and out of the way of industrialization earmarked by a parish government master plan a few years ago for the northern side of St. James’ west bank.
The existing St. James High’s live oak-lined River Road site is adjacent to the recently announced site of a $1.85 billion Yuhuang Chemical Inc. methanol plant. A subsidiary of China-based Shandong Yuhuang Chemical Co. Ltd., the company provided Luce with a letter in mid-July expressing interest in buying “some or all of the High School property.”
Luce said a recent appraisal put the value of the site at $10 million, though any sale would have to be bid publicly.
The School Board has spent about $8 million on the stadium, land, access roads, sewer system and related improvements, Luce said. The stadium itself cost about $6.5 million.
School officials may ask voters as soon as March to approve a $50 million bond issue to pay for the new high school, as well as a list of upgrades to existing schools already identified through a previous long-range plan. The bond issue would be funded with an existing 10-mill property tax.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.