The WBR School Board, on Tuesday, December 10, discussed plans to donate property behind Cohn Elementary School to WBR Parish in order for the parish to construct and maintain a road
to William and Lee Park, a move that was agreed upon by the Port Allen city council during their meeting the following day.
Jason Manola, WBR School Board President and Executive Assistant to the Parish President, said Wednesday, that the school board will donate the property for a road that will potentially tie into Louisiana Ave., and go in front of William and Lee park and tie back in to N. 14th St.
“It basically gives road access all the way around the school,” Manola said, adding that the parish recently helped clear out much of the property that had overgrown weeds and unsightly bushes, with parish equipment. “But the school board would actually donate the property, the parish would actually build the road. It would become a parish road, be maintained by the parish going forward. So any maintenance or anything like that would be the responsibility of the parish.”
Manola said that the road that the parish plans to build will have a walking path and a bike path.
“In our master plans, everybody talks about having a walk-able community, where kids can walk to school, walk to the playground, walk to parks. I think that would give more visibility to William and Lee Park and make it easier to access for some of the kids in the area,” he said. “Also, another thing that piqued our interest on the school board standpoint, with all of the safety initiatives and everything going on with all the different school sites, this would give us a whole road access around the entire school perimeter. It will be a lot easier for them to be able to police the area and things like that.”
Manola said that he believed all the school board members were supportive of the plans.
The Port Allen city council was also supportive of the plans to build a road in an area that is within Port Allen city limits – at no charge to the city.
Parish President Riley “Pee Wee” Berthelot said the road, which will provide another way into and out of the park, will hopefully encourage more residents to utilize the park.
“We spend a lot of money, but we don’t get a lot of participation,” he said.
He said the parish has spent about $285,000 in capital outlay on the park since 2006.
“We have everything over there,” Berthelot said, mentioning the basketball courts and the swimming pool. “It’s just underutilized.”
He said the parish council has allocated $250,000 to build the 20-foot road on school board-donated property near Cohn Elementary and to build the additional 4-foot pedestrian walkway and bike lane.
“We haven’t asked the city to put one nickel in this project,” Berthelot said.
The city’s only contribution will be labor from the public works department.
Mayor Pro-Tempore Ray Helen Lawrence initially presented issue with the road at the Dec. 4 city council committee meeting. She expressed her concerns again on Dec. 11 when the issue came before a vote of the council and Berthelot and two parish council members were present to answer any questions regarding the project.
Lawrence, who lives on neighboring Oregon Avenue, said she is concerned about additional traffic noise the road will create.
“In that there are older citizens on that street, we have a safety concern, a noise concern,” she said.
Berthelot mentioned speaking with Port Allen Police Chief Esdron Brown about the project, but Lawrence said, “The chief doesn’t live on Oregon…I know what happens on Oregon.”
She said, “I think it’s a good thing for the children to be able to swim there,” but that, “Something has to be done about the traffic moving through there.”
Lawrence said she didn’t know about the project until she heard about it on the street. “Therefore, I did not totally agree with what transpired,” she said. “But I did say I appreciate it being put in a place that young people could benefit from it.”
Parish Councilwoman Charlene Gordon said she came to Lawrence’s house.
“You did speak with me earlier and said that you were for the idea,” Gordon said.
She also noted, “I should be more concerned because my street is 14th Street.”
The road will start at 14th Street near Oregon Ave. and run West. (Oregon Ave. runs East.) The road will then form a 90-degree angle to bring it East of William and Lee Park and connect it to Louisiana Ave.
Berthelot said if every city council member did not agree to the project on Dec. 11, he would forget the road and spend the money on another project.
When it was time to vote, Lawrence voted in favor of the project, as did all other city council members.
Councilman Hugh Riviere said he is in complete favor of the road and said he thinks what the parish government is doing is almost unprecedented.
“To me, this is unheard of,” he said, “for the parish to build and agree to maintain a road that benefits something in the city.”