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Exciting things happening in parish

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Officials at Lincoln United tout success of area communities

Good things are happening in Lincoln Parish and there are even more exciting times to come. That’s the message 10 local elected or appointed officials brought to about 100 parish residents gathered Monday night for the first Lincoln Parish United community update.

The event, organized by the Ruston-Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, featured remarks by education, law enforcement and municipal leaders. Chamber President Judy Copeland said the gathering was an effort to pull together all areas of the parish so that residents, as well as the entities represented, would be aware of what is going on.

“If we all work together, we can accomplish anything,” she said.

Ruston resident and retired business owner Carolyn Estes was among the listeners. She said she liked what she heard.

“As long as we were in business, we felt like anything that helped our community, helped our business,” she said. “Now that we are retired, we feel like anything that helps our community helps retirees.”

Education leaders Lincoln Parish school Superintendent Mike Milstead, Louisiana Delta Community College Ruston Campus Director Doug Postel, Grambling State University President Willie Larkin and Louisiana Tech University President Les Guice, each touted the accomplishments of their schools and the role the institutions play in the community.

“I believe that (between) Ruston and the Lincoln Parish community and our universities, there have never been better relationships,” Guice said.

He said Tech has played an important role over the last several years in attracting business and industry to the Interstate 20 corridor. He cited CenturyLink’s decision to remain in Monroe, Benteler Steel’s opening in Shreveport and the Monster Moto plant in Ruston as examples of Tech’s economic development influence.

Even though not all the companies are in Lincoln Parish, Guice said the parish still benefits, through what he called the “ripple effects” of increased employment in the area.

Ruston Mayor Ronny Walker echoed Guice’s comments saying without Tech as a partner, Ruston would not have landed the Monster Moto youth recreational vehicle plant.

“You cannot talk about economic development in Ruston without talking about Louisiana Tech,” Walker said. “Louisiana Tech is our economic driver. … When (Guice) grows the university, he grows our town.”

Guice reiterated his goal of increasing Tech’s enrollment to 15,000 by 2020.

“We need to do that to retain our national status and national competitiveness, and the needs of these employers,” he said.

Also in Tech’s future: a new 130,000-square-foot engineering and integrated science building for which ground will be broken this spring. Guice said Tech’s signature Wyly Tower of Learning, which houses administrative offices, classrooms and the Prescott Memorial Library, is set for demolition with a new $50 million facility to replace it.

Meanwhile GSU’s Larken pledged to continue to strengthen the historically black university.

“We are going to take this university to the next level of pre-eminence,” he said. “We’re not perfect, but we’re going to get there.”

GSU’s enrollment is about 4,553 students. The school has a 68 percent first year to second year retention rate, a figure that Larken called “unacceptable. We’re going to improve that number.”

Postel said the Delta Community College’s local campus served over 8,700 student last year.
“Community and technical college systems are all about access,” he said. “Community and technical colleges are designed to be in the communities of the people they serve.”

He said part of the school’s mission is to help fill skill gaps, as well as provide a foundation for students to transfer to four-year institutions if they wish to do so.

The local campus, located on the I-20 service road near Ruston High School, will be torn down within the next 18 months and a new $9 million facility constructed.

Milstead said the goal of the parish elementary and secondary school system is “to be the best school district in Louisiana and we feel like we’re on the track to make that happen.”

Lincoln Parish ranks No. 1 in the state in the percentage of students going to post-secondary institutions at 75 percent. The parish also attained well above average district performance score and two of the three high schools — Ruston High and Choudrant High have earned “A” performance ratings, Milstead said.

On the parishwide front, Parish Administrator Courtney Hall said transportation is one of parish Police Jury’s biggest concerns. About $4 million of the parish’s $17 million budget goes to maintenance and construction of roads and bridges, Hall said.

He praised Sheriff Mike Stone for reversing the downward financial spiral of the Lincoln Parish Detention Center. The jail, which operates on its own budget separate from the Police Jury and the Sheriff’s Office, ended 2015 in the black.

Stone said his department is in good shape. With the exception of the civil division that’s still located in the Lincoln Parish Courthouse, the sheriff’s office operates out of the new Lincoln Parish Public Safety Complex located on Road Camp Road. The facility doubles as the parish emergency operation center.

Stone said his dream is to acquire a safety town, an approximately three-acre miniature town designed for youngsters from kindergarten through early grades in which they learn about safety.

“But the main thing when they see somebody in this uniform that they know they’re here to help them,” Stone said.

In further comments, Ruston’s Walker recapped his Moving Ruston Forward infrastructure plan, hinted at a possible big industrial announcement that could come soon and updated the audience on several pending transportation projects.

Among the projects:

• The addition of turn lanes at Reynolds Drive and U.S. 167. The work is about to begin and is expected to take four months;

• The final plans for Tarbutton Road, a project that’s been 18 years in the making, may go to the state Department of Transportation and Development this week;

• The $10 million Rough Edge Road service road project is expected to be bid in April.
Walker drew applause when he said beginning in July, Ruston will institute curbside recycling.

Vienna Mayor Walter Carpenter, Choudrant Mayor Bill Sanderson and Grambling Mayor Ed Jones also talked about their communities.

Jones said Grambling’s biggest project is the nine-acre Legends Square commercial development adjacent to I-20. The project includes a hotel, grocery story, eateries and retail stores. Sanderson said among the things that draw people to Choudrant are the quality of its schools.

He praised Milstead and Postel, a former Choudrant High School principal, for their work in boosting education. He said road work and a new town hall are on the village’s drawing board.

Carpenter said his community of 450 people will grow as Tech and GSU grow and as more industry comes into the parish.

“There’s no other place in the state like Lincoln Parish,” he said.

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