St. Martinville, Breaux Bridge battle over land donation for community college _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BRAD BOWIE -- Ray Pellerin, left, and his son, Frank, discuss their attempts to donate a parcel of land to serve as the new South Louisiana Community College's Evangeline campus in St. Martin Parish, at the Breaux Bridge property on Monday morning. A review committee selected another site in St. Martinville that was donated by the city of St. Martinville.

The process used to select farmland outside St. Martinville as the site of South Louisiana Community College’s new Evangeline campus is under review in the wake of complaints lodged by two Breaux Bridge businessmen who say it was handled improperly.

Ray Pellerin and his son Frank questioned the selection of vacant farmland in St. Martinville. They said it didn’t meet requirements set out in the request for land donations issued by the LCTCS Facilities Corp.

LCTCS Facilities Corp. is the private, nonprofit group created by the Louisiana Community and Technical College System to facilitate capital outlay projects.

South Louisiana Community College issued a request for land donations of at least 9 acres in upper St. Martin Parish to build a new, $9.2 million building to replace its aged campus.

“Because of the multiple responses, we will provide an external review for recommendations to the Facilities Corporation Board,” Stephen Smith, chair of the LCTCS Facilities Corp., wrote in a letter to Frank Pellerin dated June 12.

Smith wrote that the review process could take up to 90 days.

The review means further delays in construction of the new campus. It originally was to begin last summer but stalled when the college opted to try to find a location that wasn’t landlocked. It issued three requests for land donations before it received responses.

The Pellerins claim the selection process was flawed and showed favoritism to St. Martinville, where the current campus is located off of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

The Pellerins had offered the use of 9 acres of property they own located behind their life insurance building off of Rees Street, which offers easy access to Interstate 10. The property is equipped with utilities infrastructure and met requirements laid out in the request for land donations.

The Pellerins claimed that the land offered by the city of St. Martinville did not fulfill the same requirements and that the city does not yet own the property it is donating.

Another requirement in the request for land donations was that the property be free and clear and ready for transfer after board approval.

The St. Martinville property is owned by the Levert family, longtime sugar cane farmers turned real estate developers, who have agreed to donate the property for the campus.

St. Martinville Mayor Thomas Nelson also has said the city plans to annex the property into the city limits and pay for utility infrastructure improvements.

Efforts to reach Smith on Friday afternoon were unsuccessful. Smith said earlier this week that the LCTCS Facilities review committee’s recommendation had not yet been voted on by the LCTCS Board of Supervisors, of which Smith is also a member.

Earlier this month, the nonprofit group’s attorney advised the Pellerins they had no legal basis for their claims and that the request for land donation document allows LCTCS Facilities Corp. to waive its requirements at its own discretion.