Contractor SBS Construction recently started building a nearly $6.5 million Ascension Parish government complex, and work is expected to take a year, parish officials said Wednesday.

Parish officials have pitched the new 33,500-square foot, modern-styled building as a long-needed consolidation of the now spread-out parish offices, improving parish worker efficiency and customer service.

The complex is being built along East Worthey Road on the site of the demolished East Ascension Hospital in Gonzales and will be next to the parish Clerk of Court’s civil building and catty-corner to the Parish Courthouse Annex.

As a bulldozer moved dirt on the future site of the complex Wednesday morning, Martin McConnell, sales and marketing manager of the parish-owned Lamar-Dixon Expo Center, told a collection of parish government, School Board, Gonzales and Donaldsonville officials that he had been present for the ground-breaking of the East Ascension Hospital as a fifth-grader many years ago.

“That was something that was really needed, and now this is something that was really needed,” said McConnell, who served as emcee of a ground-breaking ceremony in front of the old hospital’s pond on Wednesday.

The project is being paid for with a $5 million surplus the now defunct hospital board had saved along with sales tax collections from a Methanex plant under construction on the Mississippi River that the parish had set aside as an incentive rebate for the Canadian company. The sales taxes set aside became available when Methanex decided it would not seek the rebate and instead went after state incentives.

SBS Construction beat seven other companies with a $6.47 million bid approved in July. The complex had to be bid out twice but still came in over the final budget of $5.8 million due to the costs of steel and the availability of contractors.

Parish President Tommy Martinez said that, in addition to bringing together parish workers, the complex would save the parish on rental costs now being paid to house the District Attorney’s Office in Gonzales and to store parish records.

District Attorney Ricky Babin’s employees will leave cramped quarters in Gonzales, which cost the parish $100,000 per year, and move into the existing parish president’s offices in downtown Gonzales.

Martinez said one of the former hospital buildings left standing on the 15-acre site will be used to store records and serve as a parish commissary to hold and better track the distribution of various materials for parish workers.

Martinez already has his eye on the finish line.

“We’re going to see you in a year when we cut the ribbon,” Martinez told the gathered dignitaries.

Martinez also added that the annual pond jump, a tradition in which graduating seniors from East Ascension High School take a dip in the old hospital pond in early May of each year, will continue. East Ascension High is across East Worthey from the pond.

Michael Petty, senior project manager in Ascension’s Engineering Department and the parish representative on the new complex, said after the ceremony that work began Aug. 7. Contractors were moving dirt Wednesday to prepare for laying the building’s foundation.

He said drivers will see construction of the building’s steel internal structure by the end of the year. That structure will be finished by mid-January.

Petty said the construction site will have video cameras for security reasons but added that snippets of those recordings will be posted on the parish website so the public can keep up with the job.