BRPD departure from downtown opens building for La. corrections

As the Baton Rouge Police Department continues with its plans to move out of its downtown building, local property owners have grown concerned about what will become of the massive old facility.

While many in the surrounding neighborhood hoped that the compound could be returned to its glory days as a school, a spokeswoman with the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections said Monday that they expect to move into the vacated area.

City police are moving out of the dilapidated old building on Mayflower Street and into the former Woman’s Hospital, a 24-acre campus at Airline Highway and Goodwood Boulevard in the center of the city.

The Mayflower Street building is owned by the state and was leased to the city for the use of the city police headquarters. A portion of the campus has been used to house the headquarters for the state’s Corrections Services.

Pam LaBorde, spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections, said the department is already using the gym for its Probation and Parole Training Academy, which started on Jan. 21. Medical staff with the new offender health care delivery system and other personnel are expected to move into the Mayflower building’s vacated areas.

She also said the department is looking for space for its credit union and for the Prison Enterprises division, which is located on Nicholson Drive. The land on Nicholson is being developed for the Water Campus.

“We are still waiting for BRPD to completely move so we can get into the other building to assess the space, but we do have potential uses for the space,” LaBorde said in an email.

She said it’s likely the department will fill most of the office space, and possibly all of it, but said it’s unclear at this point what its timeline and renovation budget would be.

The president of the Beauregard Town Civic Association, Melanie Montanaro, said many in the neighborhood were hopeful the site could be used to expand the Baton Rouge Foreign Language Academic Immersion Magnet, which is in a building adjacent to the Police Department.

Montanaro said the most important concern among nearby residents is to see the building occupied and not left vacant for an extended period of time.

“We just don’t want it to sit vacant, and we don’t want it to be a homeless hangout or attract vandals,” she said. “It’s a big property to leave empty and dark, and that would not be ideal in our neighborhood in that part of town.”

The director of the Downtown Development District, Davis Rhorer, also had hopes that FLAIM would be able to expand into the larger facility, noting that the A+ rated school has a long waiting list but only seats for 300 students.

“They’re a great, great public elementary school and we’re glad to have them downtown,” he said.

Officials explored the possibility of purchasing the property, but “the cost was considered prohibitive,” said Keith Bromery, East Baton Rouge Parish school system spokesman.

In addition to purchase price, Bromery said the “costs associated with totally renovating this very old structure for use as a school” were too high.

The Police Department has used the Mayflower Building as its headquarters since 1988.

Built in the 1930s, the building was formerly home to the Louisiana School for the Deaf.

The stay was initially supposed to be temporary, and police chiefs have long complained about the poor conditions of the building. Former Police Chief Jeff LeDuff frequently joked that the building was still standing because “the termites were holding hands.”

The Police Department will complete its move to its new headquarters in about three months, said William Daniel, chief administrative officer for Mayor-President Kip Holden.

At this point, he said, nearly everyone is already relocated except for administrative employees and some officers for security.

The city-parish purchased the former Woman’s Hospital last year for $10 million to provide a shared headquarters for both city police and the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office. The timeline for the Sheriff’s Office to move is delayed because it hinges on significant renovations in the old hospital building.

The Sheriff’s Office last fall relocated from its former downtown office, spending more than $700,000 to renovate a facility that used to house the state Department of Transportation and Development.

Sheriff Sid Gautreaux has made it clear that he’s happy with the new location, which is near Baton Rouge Metro Airport, and is in no hurry to move again.