Bond Commission to Take Up Louisiana Construction Requests

Fri August 22, 2003 - West Edition

BATON ROUGE, LA (AP) Louisiana’s construction budget is a $3.8 billion wish list of renovations, repairs and building that may never be funded. A select few will benefit from the state’s borrowing through bond sales and move from paper to reality.

The Bond Commission will look Thursday at a list of state construction items chosen by Gov. Mike Foster’s staff to get started and must approve the borrowing of the money before the projects can begin.

The state has a cap on bond sales at about $250 million and a limited amount of cash to pay for items in the state construction budget, so that leaves hundreds of items ranging from rodeo arenas to state office buildings vying for the same pot of cash.

A new public health lab to replace the crumbling space in downtown New Orleans made it onto Commissioner of Administration Mark Drennen’s suggested list to receive nearly $15 million.

In the current lab, equipment is crammed into tiny spaces, rooms have flooded by an old, overloaded refrigerator and there is inadequate security to protect the potentially dangerous items inside the building.

The facility handled anthrax testing of more than 1,000 samples from around the state, but it has such an antiquated ventilation system that health officials say an air-borne toxin could contaminate the entire building within minutes.

A new lab has been on the drawing board since 1994, a consistently rejected request. Now it goes before the Bond Commission for approval to begin construction on the estimated $23 million project at the University of New Orleans near the lakefront.

It is on the list with a group of other projects that range from museum renovations and road improvements to mold fighting and hurricane protection.

About seven pages of local projects, like a sports complex in Iberia Parish, a performing arts center in Jefferson Parish and a farmer’s and fisheries market in Westwego also are among the select few recommended for funding.