Work begins in January on the next phase in modernizing the Lafayette Parish Courthouse, a $1.7 million renovation of the first and second floors that should take a year to complete.
Lafayette Consolidated Government, which owns and maintains the courthouse, received bids for the work last week for phase two. Project manager Kay Richard said the bids were at or near the project’s estimated cost of $1.7 million. The job has not been awarded yet.
The work is part of a yearslong, $15 million makeover of the courthouse that was built in the 1960s and partially refurbished in the 1980s.
The improvements to the first and second floors will include installing better lights, new electrical systems and wiring, asbestos removal, and making the restrooms accessible to people with disabilities, said Jim Gros, a Public Works facilities manager.
The first two floors have been empty since July when Clerk of Court’s Office employees moved into the recently overhauled sixth and seventh floors. Also moved upstairs were tons of records — property, birth, criminal and civil documents — and desks and computers.
Richard said new partitions were purchased for the move upstairs.
“Some of them were so old they wouldn’t have made the trip up,” she said.
City-parish officials began planning the top-to-bottom refurbishment of the courthouse, which is to be financed as money becomes available, after Lafayette Parish voters in 2006 rejected a tax that would have financed and maintained a new $70 million courthouse.
Rehab work started in 2013 in the building’s top two floors, six and seven. It forced the 15th District Attorney’s Office employees to move from the sixth floor to the former Whitney Bank building downtown, where they remain. The work also included installing four new elevators.
A fifth elevator, which will be used by maintenance personnel and to transport prisoners to court, is being repaired now. The fifth elevator will rise to the top of the building and allow courthouse employees and contractors to step onto the roof without using a ladder.
The seventh floor, which years ago was a jail, had air ducts installed for heating and cooling, and the iron bars and other remnants of a jail were removed. After both floors were completed over the summer, the clerk’s office moved in.
Kim Fontenot, a deputy clerk who works in the land records division, said the seventh floor has big windows with a gorgeous birds-eye view of Lafayette, and enough space for employees to have elbow room. She said they’ll not be in any hurry to return to the bottom floors.
“We were sitting on each other” downstairs, she said. “I mean, we love each other, but we don’t want to be that close to each other.”
The work that will begin in January is part of a bigger-picture in the overall makeover of the courthouse. So far, the fifth and sixth floors have been modernized.
In the coming years, city-parish planners will tackle floors three, four and five, which are where 15th Judicial District judges have their offices and courtrooms. And one day, the basement, which houses the parish 911 Center, will get an overhaul as well, Richard said.
The courthouse renovation project is plodding along: As money comes available, work is carried out. Lafayette’s agreement with the state is that the state pays 60 percent of project’s cost while the city-parish government pays the remaining 40 percent. But state-level financial woes have tamped down dollars allocated by the state, and the bulk of the up-front funding is coming from city-parish government.
Of the next phase’s $1.7 million needed to complete floors one and two, Richard said, $255,000 is being paid by the state. She said the local dollars already spent are being tallied, and that city-parish officials expect the state’s contributions to equal 60 percent by the time it’s completed.