Courthouse project stays on budget

About half the concrete slab has been poured and a third of the structural steel has risen for the new Livingston Parish Courthouse, and already parish officials are preparing for the move.

Weather delays have pushed back the estimated completion date to late July 2014, but the project’s budget is in the black after a series of minor cosmetic changes and other cost savings were implemented, said architect Phillip Kern, of Labarre Associates in Denham Springs.

The $20.4 million project, located at the end of Government Boulevard in Livingston, is funded primarily through $17.2 million in revenue bonds backed by increased filing fees at the Clerk of Court’s Office.

The rest of the cost will be covered by $1.8 million in contributions from the agencies that will occupy the space, $300,000 in parish road funds to extend Government Boulevard from La. 63 to Charley Watts Road, $622,722 in sales tax exemptions on building material purchases and roughly $475,000 in savings from change orders, according to figures provided by Labarre Associates.

The change orders have involved mostly minor cosmetic changes like interior finishes, Kern said.

“Things most owners probably wouldn’t even notice, such as changing out ceiling tiles for a savings of $60,000,” Kern said. “They’re little changes, but spread over 110,000 square feet, they can really add up.”

Robert Morrison, chief judge of the 21st Judicial District, which covers Livingston, Tangipahoa and St. Helena parishes, said the new Livingston courthouse will be a vast improvement over the current building, built in 1941 and continually added onto in the years since.

“The current courthouse was just patched onto and patched onto, and it was never really functionally designed to fit the current volume we’re experiencing,” Morrison said.

Visitors to the new courthouse will find a secure front entrance with metal detectors, a more navigable layout and five courtrooms in a single building, he said.

A multipurpose room will serve as a juror-holding area.

Officials also are discussing options for an information desk or ticker in the lobby to help visitors determine where they need to go, Morrison said.

Clerk of Court Tom Sullivan said, “Security has always been the engine that drives the train” for the new courthouse. The Sheriff’s Office often has been called to intervene, for example, when an alleged abuser follows a victim into the building, he said.

“Although the public may experience a brief delay, the passage through metal detectors at the front door and only public entrance of the new building will provide additional security,” Sullivan said.

District Attorney Scott Perrilloux also applauded the increased security measures.

“We’re finally going to have limited ingress and egress, which will allow us to make sure people are not going in with weapons or contraband or any other items that could harm someone,” Perrilloux said.

A larger, more modern and efficient space for the District Attorney’s Office also will be a nice change, he said. An official “groundbreaking” ceremony for the courthouse is scheduled at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

While the “grand opening” is a year away, Clerk of Court Supervisor Ann Wimberly said the Clerk’s Office staff already are making changes to their workflow to prepare for the new space.

In the current courthouse, each deputy clerk in the front office is assigned to handle a different type of records request, whether criminal, civil, mortgage and conveyance or marriage records, Wimberly said. In the new courthouse, the six deputy clerks interacting with the public will each be trained to handle all types of records requests.

The new system will keep staff from having to direct or escort visitors through the maze of records rooms and will help visitors more quickly and efficiently get what they need, Wimberly said.

Public computer terminals also will be available for visitors to electronically search for records, she said.

The move to electronic records has allowed the Clerk’s Office to reduce its footprint in the new courthouse, Wimberly said.

The large rooms currently needed to house mortgage and conveyance books will be replaced by space-saving vertical filing systems and computer image searches, she said.