St. Landry Parish’s new visitor center enter aims to pull motorists off the interstate and onto the area’s scenic byways.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011
By Lisa Hanchey

 20110629-Abiztouristtrap-0101
 Celeste Gomez, director of the St. Landry Parish Tourist Commissio

Rising from the middle of nowhere off I-49 between Opelousas and Washington is a metal-roofed structure topped with a spinning “fish.” No, this isn’t some kind of weather station, or even a church building, but the brand new St. Landry Parish Visitor Information Center, a project melding sustainability and “green” construction with Cajun culture.

Opened May 22, the parish’s unique visitors’ center was over 10 years in the making. Previously, the tourist information center was located in downtown Opelousas at the old city market building. When the Parish Tourist Commission spotted space leftover from I-49 construction, members approached the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development for a joint use agreement. Fortunately, former DOTD District 3 Administrator Bill Fontenot gave the contract the green light. “Our mission was to get visitors off of the interstate and get them to the scenic byways to Opelousas, Washington, Grand Coteau, Sunset, Port Barre, Arnaudville and Eunice, as well as the largest and oldest state park at Chicot,” says Director Celeste Gomez. “It was a blessing to get this because it was such a good spot.”

Designed by Ashe Broussard Weinzettle Architects of Alexandria, EnvironMental Design of Breaux Bridge and Jeffrey Carbo Landscape Architects of Alexandria, this 4,600-square-foot structure is environmentally friendly and sustainable. The primary building, made from steel with 60 to 90 percent recycled content, was oriented to gain maximum use of sunlight, shade and wind for energy conservation. On the roof are metal panels integrated with 2kw Photovoltaic Laminate Film, generating power for the facility.

Protruding from the hipped roof is a modern wind turbine with a vertical axis that charges batteries inside the building to provide power to an interior circuit. “We knew we wanted something different and unique, and wanted an iconic feature to get visitors’ attention from the interstate,” Gomez explains. “So, we needed something with height.”

Surrounding the building is beautiful deck and boardwalk made with sourced IPE wood from Brazil. The wide porch overlooks a plat landscaped with grasses, plants and trees indigenous to St. Landry Parish. Pat James donated a live oak propagated by Bob Thibodeaux from the acorns of the Jim Bowie oak in downtown Opelousas. A 1,500-gallon galvanized cistern collects rainwater for the landscaping. Instead of downspouts, water is collected by rain chains into an oyster shell-filled drainage runnel, outflowing into a cypress bog garden.

Along the boardwalk, four kiosks will feature interpretative panels explaining the practices used in the project. In front of the landscaped area is the stunning Spicy Cayenne Fiddle made from red, green, orange and bronze glass crafted by artist Christine Ledoux. Keeping with the theme of the center, Ledoux’s fiddle was created from remnant pieces of glass salvaged from a church in New Orleans.

Inside of the center, glorious longleaf pine flooring salvaged from nearby Washington covers the open reception area. Behind the lobby’s desk are colorful neon-green Knoll chairs made from recycled content. A low velocity, large diameter ceiling fan cools off road-weary travelers. Energy-saving LED fixtures and bulbs light the rooms without emitting heat.

At the rear of the lobby are the men’s, women’s and family restrooms. “The restroom is usually the first stop travelers make when they come in,” Gomez observes. With that in mind, the bathrooms were attractively designed with eye-popping green tiles and DuPont Corian and Zodiaq countertops made with recycled quartz and glass. Low-flow water fixtures with motion detection top deep stainless steel sinks. A bladed hand dryer blows cool air to conserve energy as well as paper towels.

With this beautiful facility as a backdrop, the center is also promoting local art, native crafts and music. The center is located at 978 Kennerson Road in Opelousas off I-49 (Exit 23). Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, with weekend times to come. For more information, call (337) 948-8004 or visit the web at www.cajuntravel.com.

 

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