Courthouse renovations

A collection of major renovation projects at the Lafayette Parish Courthouse will refurbish two of the decades-old elevators and gut the former parish jail on the seventh floor that has been abandoned since 1984.

More than $2 million worth of work is planned during the next two years.

The most noticeable change for courthouse visitors will likely be the overhaul of elevators on the Buchanan Street side of the downtown courthouse — two of the four publicly accessible elevators in the building.

The elevators, which are original to the 1960s-era building, will be fully refurbished with new parts, said Kay Richard, with the city-parish Department of Public Works.

“It will look like they are completely brand new,” she said.

The elevators will remain in daily operation while much of the work is done but will be taken offline for up to two months in the late summer, Public Works Director Tom Carroll said.

He said judges indicated that likely will be the best time to take the elevators out of service because of a lull in court activity.

“Obviously, there is no perfect time,” Carroll said.

Another major courthouse project expected to begin before the end of the year is the renovation of the old jail on the top floor.

The seventh floor served as the parish jail from when the courthouse was built in 1965 until the completion of new parish jail next door in 1984 at the downtown Sheriff’s Office complex, Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court Louis Perret said.

He said the space has occasionally been used for storage but is not fit for office space because it lacks climate control and is filled with old jail cells.

Richard said work crews will cut out the old bars and jail cell walls and leave an empty shell.

The plan is to temporarily move various courthouse services to the seventh floor during asbestos abatement work that will be ongoing over the next several years on the other floors, she said.

“The idea is that as we do a floor, we will move them up to the seventh floor,” Richard said. “The best-case scenario would be to empty the building at one time, but we can’t do that.”

Asbestos abatement will be done on the sixth floor as part of the seventh-floor project, she said.

The sixth floor is home to the District Attorney’s Office, which will be temporarily moved to a location that has yet to be determined.

The work at the courthouse comes six years after voters shot down a proposed 6-mill property tax that would have funded the construction and maintenance of a new courthouse at a different location and the renovation the existing courthouse for other uses.

The tax proposal followed a study commissioned by city-parish government that concluded the size and layout of the existing courthouse were inadequate to keep up with the needs of the growing parish.

City-Parish Chief Administrative Office Dee Stanley said there is “dramatic need” for a new courthouse but no current prospects for funding it.

“As we still pursue a new building, we have to make sure we continue to take care of the building that is 50 years old,” Stanley said.

“We have to take care of what we have, because it’s all we have.”