Move necessary for courthouse rehab
LAFAYETTE — Seventeen workers with Acadiana Movers on Friday wheeled out box after box of prosecution files, maneuvered tall shelves through tight spots, and hoisted heavy desks to clear the Lafayette Parish Courthouse’s sixth floor, the contents going into moving trucks for a short ride to another downtown building.
On Saturday, the movers carted the same boxes, chairs and desks to the top floor at The Whitney, the downtown bank where the Lafayette Parish District Attorney’s Office will occupy the fifth floor for at least a year.
The relocation is part of a multiyear, $15-million refurbishment of the seven-story Lafayette Parish Courthouse, built in the 1960s on the downtown block bordered by Lafayette, Buchanan and West Main streets. The rehab project was necessary after voters in December 2006 overwhelmingly rejected a property tax to fund a new courthouse that had a $70 million price tag.
So far, Lafayette Consolidated Government, which owns and maintains the courthouse, has spent about $5 million to replace the roof and update the fire alarm system, replace the cooling towers on the roof and chillers in the basement, and has ongoing repairs of two of the building’s five elevators, said Kay Richard, who works in the city-parish Public Works Department.
Elevators 1 and 2 on the Buchanan Street side of the courthouse, being repaired now for $663,000, should be operational by September, Richard said, and repairs on elevators 3, 4 and 5, on the building’s Lafayette Street side, should begin this year at a cost of more than $1 million.
“They’re supposed to be high speed,” Richard said.
Workers also will begin clearing out the seventh floor, which served as a jail from 1965 to 1985.
The floor now is a darkened maze of lime-green cinder-block walls and other barriers made of steel bars.
“The entire seventh floor’s going to be gutted,” Richard said. “It’s going to become a completely usable space.”
Building maintenance supervisor Jim Gros said demolition workers would clear the walls and bars on the seventh floor by breaking them down and loading the cement and steel onto a outside-mounted construction elevator, which will take the tons of the materials to awaiting trucks for removal.
When it’s done, the seventh floor will be wide open. Movable partitions will be erected for temporary offices of courthouse workers. Richard said that after the sixth and seventh floors are completed, the first floor housing half the Clerk of Court’s Office personnel will be repaired, its workers sent to the seventh floor.
“We’ll play a shell game,” she said. “Because it’s a building that’s inhabited, we can’t do everything at one time.”
The work on the sixth floor that District Attorney’s Office personnel vacated last week will include replacing the ceilings and removing asbestos.
Lafayette Consolidated Government is financing 40 percent of the project through its building maintenance fund. Sixty percent is being shouldered by the state, which allocates dollars to the project each year through capital outlay legislation, Richard said.
Pam Granger, assistant to District Attorney Mike Harson, said the office workers have been told the sixth and seventh floor phase could take 18 months to two years.
“If we have to be out of our present location, the Whitney bank building is the best solution and most convenient,” Granger said.
Harson said the move shouldn’t affect his office too much. He acknowledged there will not be the convenience of having files and offices just a floor or two above the courtrooms.
The office will purchase laptop computers for quick access to files when prosecutors in court are blocks away from file cabinets. Harson also said prosecutors also have been given a room on the third floor that can serve as a staging area for the day-to-day court events.
Harson said phone numbers to the District Attorney’s Office will remain the same.