French immersion in Arnaudville one step closer

by Walter Pierce

The former St. Luke's Hospital in Arnaudville
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Supporters of an ambitious plan to convert an abandoned hospital in Arnaudville into a French Immersion campus are celebrating today — and have inched closer to making their plan a reality.

The St. Martin Parish Council voted Tuesday evening to abolish the First Hospital District, following the lead two weeks ago of the St. Landry Parish Council, which co-owned the defunct St. Luke's Hospital in Arnaudville with its St. Martin counterpart. Tuesday's vote turns over ownership of the hospital to St. Landry

George Marks, center, celebrates with friends following Tuesday's St. Martin Parish Council meeting.

Parish, which is still seeking an attorney general's opinion on what it can do with the property. But the Tuesday vote gave proponents of establishing a French immersion program on the former hospital campus hope, and they turned out in large numbers for Tuesday's council meeting.

The Daily Iberian's Dwayne Fatheree is reporting today that the building is estimated to be worth about $300,000. Under terms of the deal, Fatheree reports, St. Martin Parish Government will get about 65 percent of the cash assets remaining from the First Hospital District in exchange for turning the building's title over to St. Landry Parish.

George Marks, executive director of the NuNu Arts & Culture Collective in Arnaudville, the nonprofit that has been spearheading a renaissance in the small Cajun town and the chief advocate for establishing a French immersion program in the old hospital site, was effusive in his gratitude on Facebook following Tuesday's meeting:

It is done.

Arnaudville will not be ultimately straddled with a rotting albatross of a building which would serve to hinder our positive growth!!!! Equality has prevailed.

St Martin Parish Council just voted to unanimously disband the First Hospital District of St Landry and St Martin following the lead of St Landry who voted two weeks ago and consequently open up the shuttered St Luke Hospital in Arnaudville to new commerce.

We can collectively begin to assess what needs to be done and St Landry Parish can put a stop to the near $100,000/year being WASTED to "maintain" an empty building....approximately $700,000 including depreciation since we started having this conversation almost 8 years ago.

Hopefully the facility will ultimately become the ST LUC FRENCH IMMERSION AND CULTURAL CAMPUS and provide adult programming for university students, professional development and the local populace.

Until such time, we will continue with the ongoing French immersion program already taking place in Arnaudville.

It is amazing how many folks in Arnaudville support the proposed St LUC French Immersion and Cultural Campus. Everywhere I or other advocates of the project go...we're literally surrounded by folks wanting to know more and to share their excitement for the project.

Based on a random survey, I realized there was a 90% approval but I had no idea so many people would speak out in such a public way! I had no idea that so many people would exude so much hope and excitement for this economic opportunity. I had no idea that they see this campus as a way to help heal deep anti French wounds.

Making groceries, pumping gas, filling meds, eating out and picking up mail has never, ever been so much fun. The excitement is contagious.

Thank you Parish Presidents Bill Fontenot Guy Cormier for working so hard to address this issue and to our volunteers that stayed true, despite the insults, name calling, dis respect, accusations, bullying and more.

Thank you Lt Governor Billie Nungesser for the beautiful letter he provided to the Council and the Parish President supporting this initiative.

Thank you to all of you who spoke in favor of this ordinace including but not limited to Monique Boulet of the Acadiana Planning Commision, Cherry Fisher May of ABIZ, Aimee Smallwood of the Cultural Economy Foundation, Charles Larroque of CODOFIL, David Cheramie of the Bayou Vermillion Commission and the countless supporters and Arnaudville residents.

Thank you to all of you that attended meetings in St Landry and St Martin, wrote letters of support and followed this project.

Thank you to groups and organizations in Arnauville such as the Knights of Columbus, St Theresa's Thrift Store and the Arnaudvile Chamber for collectively supporting this ordinance.

Thank you to Arnaudville Police Chief Eddy J. LeCompte for standing up and speaking honestly about the building including the countless break-ins, vandalism and liability issues.

Thank you to Debbie Hardy LaGrange. As a person with Parkinsons disease, stepping forward and speaking in public took great courage.

Thank you to the universities who have already successfully participated in immersion experiences in Arnaudville including over the last 3 years including: Indiana State University, NYU and Indiana State University and upoming participation from the University of Minnesota and the University of Arkansas and the many letters of support that were provided.

In St Martin, thank you to the entire St Martin Parish Council including: Byron Fuselier, Lisa Nelson, Jason Willis, Neil Thibodeaux, Chris Tauzin, Jill Hebert, Albert "dada" Menard, Dean LeBanc and Daniel Richard, Jr.

In St Landry, thank you to the "Fabulous Seven:" Vivian Olivier, Jerry Red, Timmy Lejeune, Dexter Brown, Jimmy Edwards, Easton Shelvin and Mildred Thierry, without your "yes" votes, I would not be posting this now.

Although each of them voted "no," after the overwhelming support hopefully they are considering eventually working with us: Wayne Ardoin, Alvin Stelly, Kenneth Marks, Coby Clavier, Nancy A Carriere and Harold Taylor. We're leaving a crack in the door so that they can have an opportunity to better inform themselves and join us as partners in this momentous endeavor. Already Kenneth Marks and Harold Taylor have offered their congratulations and stated they will work with us.

One more thank you. Thank you to the Arnaudville Police Department, St Landry Parish Police Department, Louisiana State Police and citizenry for keeping a watchful eye on St Luke during this transitional period. Vandals and individuals up to no good might want to think twice before engaging in illegal or non permited behavior.

George Marks