The City Council Tuesday night was set at this writing to OK the first of several leases for office space in the center, which will also offer living spaces for visiting students and researchers as well as a conference area for the work of bringing French-speaking peoples together.
According to St. Martinville’s Main Street manager, Danielle Fontenette, one of the architects of the plan, the French International Center should become self-sustaining through a membership program within two years.
Meanwhile, the City of St. Martinville will continue to pay utilities, insurance and upkeep on the 135-year-old building.
One of the first tenants of the center is set to be the World Studies Institute of Louisiana (WSIL), the mission of which is to “develop an international language academy in Acadiana that serves Louisiana secondary students and creates a network of international virtual classrooms in primary schools across Louisiana to feed this academy.”
Also involved in the planning is Philippe Gustin, manager of the Centre International de Lafayette, a division of the Lafayette Consolidated Government.
“It’s exciting that Lafayette recognizes St. Martinville as the center of French heritage in Acadiana,” said Fontenette. “It’s really going to add to the attraction of this city, to have these visitors and all these things going on.
Coming soon to La Maison Duchamp, or the French International Center, is a group of mayors from Haiti who will learn from municipal officials around Louisiana the techniques of mapping streets and utilities in their own communities, a shortcoming exposed by the Haitian earthquake.
Another potential tenant is La Francophonie, an international organization of French-speaking countries. Worldwide there are more than 150 million French-speaking people, two out of every three of which live outside of France.
La Maison Duchamp, one of the anchors of historic downtown St. Martinville, is on Main Street across from the restored Duchamp Opera House. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it was built in 1876 by planter Eugène Duchamp as the family’s town residence.
The City of St. Martinville purchased the building to help preserve the 19th century look of downtown. Damage to the slate roof by Hurricane Gustav was threatening to spread to the interior, and in 2009 the city spent over $172,000 of mostly FEMA money for repairs.