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Photograph: Helix Academy president Preston Castille reviews plans and architectural drawings for an Artificial Intelligence and Medical Academy that is due to open in the Opelousas area in 2025. (Photograph by Bobby Ardoin.)

Editor/Consulting Writer

Architectural plans for a $34 million artificial intelligence and medical academy set to open outside Opelousas in 2025, were unveiled to St. Landry Parish school board members during a meeting on Thursday night.

Helix Academy president Preston Castille announced that school officials have purchased about 16 acres next to Our Saviors Church in order to construct the academy that will be used for teaching elementary students in grades kindergarten through fifth grade.

Castille told board members that an additional five acres will be used by the school to construct a soccer field once the classroom facility is completed.

Helix officials last year received approval from school officials to build at least one academy near Opelousas, after voters parish wide refused to pass a referendum that would have doubled the property tax millage now used for salaries and maintenance for public school employees.

Since then Castille has said Helix officials have been searching for an appropriate spot primarily on the south side of Opelousas, to build a state of the art academy.

The prospective location for the academy was considered due to the increased economic activity that has been occurring around the Interstate-49 and Guilbeau Road area, said Castille.

Castille has indicated in past presentations that the facility will be financed primarily by private investment.

On Thursday Castille said that Helix officials initially approached the purchase of a new school site with a $500,000 budget. 

Our Saviors Church, Castille added, was asking $1.2 million for the property.

However during negotiations between the two parties, church officials agreed to provide what Castille described as an in-kind donation of $750,000. In addition Castille also added that the purchase received another $225,000 in funding from unidentified donors that he said “grew up in the city.”

The classroom complex is expected to cover about 42,000 square feet. The school curriculum, Castille noted, is expected to draw interest from the AI industry.

“The goal will be to bring AI to Opelousas,” Castille said.

Castille said Helix curriculum planners are also interested in creating perhaps another school in the parish that focuses on energy production.

An energy academy in the Opelousas and Lafayette areas seems appropriate, said Castille, since the areas are inside the heart of the Louisiana energy industry.

Castille said after meeting with school officials late in 2022, he has continued to meet monthly with District officials, especially curriculum director Angela Cassimere.