WALLACE — Officials gathered Thursday to cut the ribbon for the new West Bank Security Complex, a $2 million collaborative effort between the St. John’s Parish Sheriff’s Office and the fire department aimed at increasing accessibility police, fire and medical care.

Located on Highway 18 near the Veterans Memorial Bridge in Wallace, the 6,000 square foot complex includes bays to house fire trucks and equipment, covered parking for the Acadian ambulance, conference, offices, kitchen, dormitories, reception area and more. The facility also provides additional space to house emergency and disaster first responders.

Parish President Jaclyn Hotard said the aftermath of Hurricane Ida revealed the need for such a facility in the West Bank.

“We saw what happened during Hurricane Ida when first responders were going back and forth trying to help our residents in difficult situations,” Hotard said. “This magnificent 6,000 square foot facility will provide another place for those on the front lines to sleep, eat or simply take a break from the stressful situations they face on a daily basis.”

The West Bank Public Safety Complex will be open for residents to stop by and share information or community concerns with first responders and members of the St. John’s Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff Mike Tregre challenges residents to come for a “walk and talk” atop the nearby Mississippi River levee.

Tregre said the Public Safety Complex’s location near the Veterans Memorial Bridge will help officers respond quickly to emergencies in Wallace, Lacy, Pleasure Bend, Edgard and along Highway 3127.

“I am very happy to report that one of my campaign promises, to build a public security complex for the West Bank, has been fulfilled,” Tregre said. “Despite minor and major setbacks, we are here today, at last, to cut this ribbon on this magnificent building constructed for residents of the West Bank. There were too many times where an incident happened in the West Bank and we had to plug in all the equipment and drag it from LaPlace to the West Bank. It was a long drive, but now we are in a much better position.

Delays to the long-awaited project began shortly after groundbreaking in September 2019. Water levels in the Mississippi River were deemed too high for construction work in 2020. Another setback came from the unplanned relocation of an AT&T fiber optic line that ran through the property.

The COVID-19 pandemic and Hurricane Ida further complicated the construction process. Tregre said he was still waiting for delivery of furniture for the building which has been delayed since the hurricane.

Hotard is grateful to residents who have remained patient despite the delays, and she said the public security complex is just the start of improvements to come in the West Bank.

“My administration remains focused on improving the quality of life in St. John, and this new complex will do so for many years to come. However, we are not stopping there,” Hotard said. “We recently cut the ribbon for phase one of the Lucy Trail project, with phase two starting soon. We are also moving forward with plans for a new community center in the West Bank, which is also much needed.

Hotard said the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed a lack of facilities in the West Bank to administer vaccines and tests to the community. Hurricane Ida highlighted these vulnerabilities when the West Bank needed locations for food distributions and shelters when electricity and water were unavailable.

While Ida further delayed plans for the facility, Hotard said it allowed the parish to focus on what was needed to make the West Bank more resilient to future emergencies.

Devon Jackson, fire chief for the St. John Westside Fire Department, said it was difficult to operate from just one fire station after the hurricane because only one had sleeping quarters. By providing additional sleeping quarters, the West Bank Security Complex will allow firefighters and other first responders to expand throughout the parish and better assist residents.

“I think it’s a huge plus that we awarded this building. It will help with response time, personnel and just putting fire and police presence in the area,” Jackson said. “It’s always a stopover where people can come and we’re always there to help. We are delighted to have the opportunity to present the building.