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Hearing held on tax-exempt financing for reconstruction of St. Louis High School

Published: Sep. 16, 2021 at 6:03 PM CDT
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Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) - Amid weather warnings and school closures because of Hurricane Nicholas on Tuesday, one public hearing went forward as scheduled regarding a bond issue for St. Louis Catholic High School.

In the boardroom of a local bank, up to $10 million in tax-exempt bonds was up for discussion: bonds with tax-exempt interest to be issued to help finance reconstruction for St. Louis High.

One concern raised about the funding is how it could be used and whether religious activity could violate the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The bond issue is already approved by the State Bond Commission. Still, a public hearing was held in a local bank boardroom by the Louisiana Local Government Environmental Facilities and Community Development Authority. Though it was held locally, Authority Executive Director Ty Carlos participated on a speaker phone from out of town.

The tax-exempt bonds would help finance reconstruction of a new St. Louis High School at Morganfield and a dining hall at the existing Bank Street location.

According to the paperwork, no part of the bond proceeds would be used to build facilities for the practice of religion. That’s an issue of concern to some long-time school supporters.

“You cannot co-mingle religion. Now you can on a private chapel, sure, but the rest of the school for the rest of the day, would you be able to practice religion as we always have?” concerned citizen Henry Chol asked the bond attorney there.

“No portion of bond proceeds will be used for purposes of construction of a building that is used for the practice of religion, the chapel specifically,” said bond counsel Jay Delafield.

The legal questions were not resolved at the hearing.

“What would happen if the school was challenged, lost the challenge. What would happen to the operation of the school? Would they still be able to operate in those buildings?” Chol said.

“That’s beyond my ability to answer. I do not have the expertise in that respect,” Delafield said.

The school’s decision to move southeast to Morganfield has already stirred controversy. Would a challenge to how the funding is used ever be made?

“You’d have to have some left-wing nut that would want to bring something up and push the issue,” said Herman Monceaux, a concerned citizen.

“There’s not many of those around these days,” Chol said.

The hearing adjourned after 22 minutes. The overall project is expected to cost $40 million to $45 million, including anticipated funding from FEMA, but the plans and specifications are not expected to be finished until toward the end of the year.

There’s no word yet on who may be underwriting the bonds or when they may be issued.

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