DONALDSONVILLE, LA. (BRPROUD) — Donaldsonville is a rural community with a lot of history. Ascension Parish officials are now focusing on its future, starting with early education.

“If you want to bring early childhood education to another level, we’re in,” said Ascension Parish Sheriff Bobby Webre.

Local leaders believe now is the time to restore the area with investments for the future. A new affordable early childhood learning center facility will open on the west bank.

“The better our children are educated, the more they will want to stay here in Donaldsonville, and that’s going to help the economy so much,” Donaldsonville Mayor Leroy Sullivan said.

They say the center will reach even the most vulnerable populations. According to Kids Count, almost half of three and four-year-olds in Louisiana are not in preschool.

“On the West Bank, there is not a single type of three-day care available,” said Ascension Parish Chief Administrator Officer John Diez. “So even if you could afford it, you don’t have an option. But the fact of the matter is, because of disparities and poverty on this side, they can’t afford it.”

As construction begins on the $6 million dollar facility, the center will be operated out of the old B. Lemann Department Store.

“It’ll hold 72 students and it will be an interim facility for two years until our final facility is built and what is deemed back of town,” said Diez.

“They’re going to have a higher quality of life. They’re going to earn more money that can support themselves and their families. And that is how you transform communities and states,” said Gov. John Bel Edwards.

They plan to help children and limit the number of youth who fall through the cracks.

“Our goal should always be to find and build upon opportunities to keep our children from ever entering the juvenile justice system in the first place,” said Webre.

“Early childhood education is to help close the achievement gap and improves the criminal justice system, but it’s also workforce development,” said Diez.

The center is scheduled to open at the beginning of next year.