By KEVIN CHIRI
Slidell news bureau
SLIDELL — The plan to repair the Slidell Technical College building in Slidell has hit more than one roadblock, despite an offer on the table from FEMA to pay to renovate the badly damaged building on Bayou Liberty Road.
The former vo-tech school had offered a multitude of classes to students in Slidell since the 1970s, helping those who wanted advanced job skills, but not needing a 4-year college.
Hurricane Katrina took down the school in the August, 2005 storm here, and the building has sat vacant since then, with increasing damage from vandals.
FEMA announced last year they would pay to repair the building and William Wainwright, chancellor for the Northshore Technical Community College system in this area, wants to get the building back in business.
But that plan has hit a roadblock for more than one reason.
The 5-acre piece of property the building sits on was donated to the state community college system in the 70s from the Pete Schneider family. Unknown to most, there was a clause in the donation contract that said the property would revert back to the Schneider family if the property was not used for more than two years, a time frame that has more than passed.
Now, Pete Schneider III said there are “perhaps as many as 30 heirs” who have a say in what happens to the property, and whether they will re-donate it to the state community college system.
Adding to the question about the building being donated and renovated is the fact that School Board Member John Lamarque wants the school system to purchase the building, so they can have a say in the vo-tech operation.
“I think we can make the system work better if we own the land and have a say in the operation,” said Lamarque, a former School Board president and 18-year veteran on the board. “Money is tighter now, but I think we can find the money to buy it.”
An appraisal on the building came in at $1.5 million, meaning 30 heirs could get $50,000 each if they decided to sell, and assuming they got full price.
The land for the building was originally donated by Pete Schneider Jr., Claude Schneider and Bernice Schneider Wells. Pete Schneider III said that finding all the heirs now, almost 40 years later, will prove very difficult and with the interest from the School Board to purchase the property, he has no idea which way the group of heirs will want to go.
“I can’t speak for all the others who have an interest in this,” he said. “We haven’t even found all of them yet and that will take a lot of time and effort.”
Wainwright said he is pushing forward with the hopes of the state system getting the land donated again, which will allow them to tap into the money from FEMA to repair the building. He estimated it would take “a minimum of $4 million to repair the building. It was badly damaged and sat idle for years, but it can be put back into use and that is what I’m working towards.”
Wainwright said he has already initiated design work for the new building and is ready to implement the work, if the Schneider family decides to re-donate it to them.
Lamarque, who was a shop teacher in St. Tammany schools for 20 years before retiring and winning election to the School Board in the 1980s, said he sees a great need for the technical college courses.
“This subject is very dear to my heart,” he said. “Our school system continues to operate with the idea that every student is preparing for college. That’s ridiculous to work in that direction when you see the statistics that only 20 percent of the citizens in our country have a college degree.
“So many more young people need technical college training, and we especially need to train them in careers that can’t be exported—like car mechanics, plumbers, electricians, sheet rockers—those can be great careers for young people and that training best comes from technical colleges,” he said. “Personally I am very interested in the School Board buying this land and then working with the technical college system to get these courses offered.”
Wainwright, when informed that Lamarque wanted a cooperative deal, said he would have to discuss details of that compromise before he could comment on it.
Wainwright emphasized that Northshore Technical College continues to head Slidell-area classes at a local building on Behrman Drive that offers automotive technology, welding, heating, ventilation, air conditioning training and health care related careers. They also offer GED training and courses in conjunction with high school classes.
Delgado also has a community college site in Slidell on Howze Beach Road, offering a multitude of courses as well.
Schneider said his next step would be to arrange a meeting with himself, Wainwright and Lamarque to discuss all options face-to-face.