THIBODAUX – The John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University will be moving into its own facility after the State Bond Commission allotted $700,000 for the construction of the building.

Home to 225 students, the Folse Institute has been offering courses to aspiring chefs since 1995. From its inception, Folse Institute has held classes in campus buildings shared with other departments – an inconvenience that will no longer be an issue upon the completion of this building. The money from the state will cover a portion of the construction costs, with the rest already raised through private donations and fundraisers.

The building will be situated on an 8-acre plot of land on Highway 1 near Bowie Road. It will feature modern kitchens and classrooms and also will include a culinary-specific library and computer lab.

GROSS TETE – Tiger Truck owner Michael Sandlin received a permit from the state of Louisiana allowing him to continue to house and exhibit Tony, a 10-year-old Siberian-Bengal tiger.

Issued by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the permit runs through the end of 2011.

Sandlin’s ownership of the tiger has drawn criticism from several animal-rights groups in the past year. The tiger is the last privately owned large exotic cat in Louisiana after legislation passed in 2006 made it illegal to possess “potentially dangerous animals.” Because he already owned the tiger prior to the bill’s passing, Sandlin was allowed to keep Tony.

To obtain the permit, Sandlin had to show proof of liability insurance, a detailed emergency plan should the tiger escape and a health certificate from a licensed veterinarian. Wildlife and Fisheries officials will make periodic unannounced visits to the truck stop throughout the year to check on Tony’s welfare.

LAFAYETTE – After an extensive search, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette has hired former Mississippi State passing game coordinator Mark Hudspeth as the new head football coach of the Ragin’ Cajuns.

Hudspeth was formally introduced to the media on Dec. 13, 2010.

With close to two decades of coaching experience, the 42-year-old Hudspeth comes to Lafayette after helping direct Mississippi State to its first bowl game in three years. Prior to joining the Mississippi State staff, Hudspeth served as head coach at Division II North Alabama. In seven seasons there, Hudspeth compiled a 66-20 record.

“I wanted this job more than anyone else in the country,” Hudspeth said. “It has unlimited potential. This is an unbelievable state with unbelievable high school talent. We are going to put a fence around this state. We are going to build a program with Louisiana high school football players.”

Hudspeth inherits a team that went 3-9 in 2010 under former coach Ricky Bustle, finishing eighth in the nine-team Sun Belt Conference.

LAFAYETTE – The home of former professional women’s tennis player Chanda Rubin was destroyed by fire when an apparent bolt of lightning struck the residence during a storm on Dec. 29, 2010.

Rubin was in the 5,500-square-foot house, located in Lafayette’s upscale River Ranch subdivision, when it caught fire. As soon as she noticed the blaze, she called 911 and left the residence. Firefighters responded to the call but were unable to prevent much of the premises from suffering major fire, smoke or water damage.

The 34-year-old Rubin turned pro in 1991 and rose as high as No. 6 in the WTA rankings before a series of injuries slowed her career. She was the winner of seven singles titles, and her best individual performance in a major tournament came in 1996 when she reached the semifinals of the Australian Open. Known for her humanitarian and philanthropic efforts, Rubin was the 2002 recipient of the Family Circle Player Who Makes a Difference Award and the 2003 United States Tennis Association’s Service Bowl Award.

LAFAYETTE – To fund the completion of Interstate 49 south of Carencro, the Lafayette Metropolitan Expressway Commission is exploring the possibility of collecting tolls.

Commission member Elaine Abell told the Advocate that the panel plans to study whether traffic volumes would generate enough toll revenue to upgrade U.S. 90 to interstate standards from Interstate 10 south through Iberia Parish.

The cost of elevating the I-49 stretch through Lafayette has been estimated at $700 million.

Abell said tolls might put the interstate on the fast track, assuming the fees can generate sufficient revenue.

PINEVILLE – Two Civil War forts constructed in order to stave off a Union attack during the Red River Campaign have reopened to the public as a historic site.

The Forts Randolph & Buhlow State Historic Site in Pineville overlooks the Red River. Both forts were strategically built to keep Union forces from advancing up the Red River Valley again, as had happened in 1864.

Visitors can tour the perimeter of the forts’ earthen walls by walking newly installed boardwalks. After the tour, patrons are directed into the visitors’ center, which houses several exhibits about the twin forts’ history.