More than eight years ago, the Ascension Parish library system bought property in St. Amant for $350,000 to one day build a new branch in the southeastern corner of the parish.
At the time, library officials had said the land purchase was part of a long-term vision to provide services to a growing part of Ascension far from other branches.
Library and parish officials now say they have a vision for the 13.25-acre site along La. 431 between Cannon and Bayou Narcisse roads that will combine libraries with recreation, community gathering and emergency response.
Parish officials say they still want to build a library but relocate the St. Amant community center destroyed in the August 2016 flood to the site and also add in a recreational court while allowing the entire complex to double as a point of distribution and shelter for future disasters.
Under current plans, which are still under development, the complex would have a roughly 22,000-square foot library, an 8,200-square foot community center that could double as an emergency shelter and a covered recreational space that could double as a point of distribution, parish officials said.
The current concepts also call for a small amphitheater space for outdoor gatherings.
Ricky Compton, parish director of planning and facilities, told the Parish Council last week that the administration will be seeking to tap the parish's mega infrastructure fund to help finance the new complex.
Library officials have been building up several million dollars in reserves for some years to finance the library branch.
"By collaborating with the library, we can create a partnership that has never been seen before in Ascension Parish," Compton said at the Parish Courthouse in Donaldsonville Oct. 7. "We imagined a facility that joins our efforts in a way that increases the likelihood that participation and utilization will far exceed each of the facilities if they stood alone."
Library board members were on hand to endorse the concept, which has been the subject of joint talks.
The plans are the outgrowth of a similar concept first envisioned in 2016 by the prior parish administration, library officials and the parish Sheriff's Office but had been put on hold.
Rachael Wilkinson, Ascension's homeland security director, said that parish officials learned after the August 2016 flood that they did not have enough sites to distribute emergency supplies and needed more.
In 2016, Wilkinson said, some food and supply distributions ended up in shopping centers and on the side of the road. "This offers this side of town ... it answers all of those questions," he said.
Compton said the administration would be asking the Parish Council for $1.6 million from the infrastructure fund to match what officials expect FEMA will authorize to build the new community center.
The recently created fund is expected to receive the $9.26 million in proceeds from the sale of the parish's east bank sewer systems and also receive shares of future sales tax surpluses.
The administration has been waiting on the Federal Emergency Management Agency to authorize the use of $1.6 million in post-'16 flood recovery money for the new plans for the community center — shifting it from its former site in Roger J. Clouatre Memorial Park on Stringer Bridge Road to the future library site on La. 431.
Instead of continuing to wait on FEMA, Compton said the transfer of the mega infrastructure fund dollars would allow work to continue and construction to start in 2022.
If the parish does get authorization to use the FEMA money for the current plan, the mega infrastructure fund money that the Parish Council would be asked to allocate would be used for other parts of the complex.
Plans also call for the new buildings to be raised on piers to avoid future flooding and also to minimize the use of earthen fill in the low-lying section of the parish.
Compton said the parish is also looking at using federal recovery dollars from the coronavirus pandemic to install pervious parking, a type of parking area that allows rainfall runoff to absorb into the ground.
Following a question from one of the council members, Compton said the site has wetlands that could eventually be used for a nature trail and has plenty of additional room for one of Ascension's most favorite activities of all.
"But, yes, there's plenty of jambalaya cooking space," he said.