Multipurpose recreation center unveiled near Montpelier Wednesday _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HEIDI R. KINCHEN -- St. Helena Parish officials and residents celebrated the grand opening of the parish's new multipurpose center Wednesday. The 3,800-square-foot facility will be operated by the parish's Fifth Ward Recreation District.

St. Helena Parish officials celebrated the completion of a new multipurpose center east of Montpelier on Wednesday.

The $900,000 center sits on what will become a 40-acre recreation park off La. 16 between Montpelier and Amite. It will be operated by the parish’s 5th Ward Recreation District.

Construction of the 3,800-square-foot building was funded primarily through state Office of Community Development disaster relief grants, recreation district Chairwoman Virginia Bell said.

The facility, which welcomed about 50 parish officials and residents Wednesday for a grand opening, houses an open meeting room, a smaller space for a future computer lab, a kitchen, restrooms and storage.

Parish officials are seeking grants and donations for computers with a goal of offering computer training and after-school tutoring, Bell said.

The building is equipped to serve as a post-storm relief center or shelter and may be rented out for special occasions, Bell said.

Police Juror Major Coleman said the recreation district will receive funding later this year to begin design work on four baseball diamonds slated to be built near the multipurpose center. Construction could begin as early as next year, he said.

Coleman was visibly emotional, wiping away tears as he told the crowd gathered at the center Wednesday that the project has been a long time coming.

“I know my people really needed it,” Coleman said. “It’s been a lot of hard work.”

Coleman encouraged residents to support the renewal in November of the recreation district’s 10-year, 15-mill tax, which is needed to operate the facility.

The tax, originally passed by voters in 2004, will generate about $80,000 per year, Bell said.

Pat Forbes, executive director of the Office of Community Development’s Disaster Recovery Unit, said St. Helena’s multipurpose center is “a great example of how government can help people.”

“We want communities to be better after spending the funds than they were before the disaster hit,” Forbes said. “And that’s exactly what you’ve got here.”

Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter @HeidiRKinchen.