Another phase in the Lafayette Parish Courthouse’s $15 million makeover is nearing completion, and employees with the Clerk of Court’s Office are getting ready to move upstairs so work can begin on floors one and two.
The move is one in a series of courthouse employee relocations made necessary by the work being done floor by floor in a building that normally is fully occupied.
Workers are completing the first phase, a total refurbishment of floors six and seven, where the Clerk’s Office employees will move later this month when the courthouse shuts down for half of July 23 and all day July 24.
“We expect to be finished (moving) by that Monday, July 27,” said Kay Richard, project manager for the Public Works Department at Lafayette Consolidated Government, which owns and maintains the courthouse. Richard did not have an estimate on how long the first two courthouse floors would be closed.
Elevator technicians last week worked to complete the installations of two new lifts on the building’s west side. The plan is to have the elevators operable by moving time later this month, when the 130 employees in Clerk of Court Louis Perret’s office will move to floors six and seven.
The elevators on the west side, which courthouse employees call elevators three and four, have been shuttered since March. A fifth elevator, on the building’s north side, will be operable later this year but not open to the public. It is to be used by courthouse employees and Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies escorting inmates to and from courtrooms.
Once Clerk’s Office employees are moved, work will begin on the bottom two floors of the courthouse. The project includes pulling out asbestos, rewiring electrical lines, refurnishing and other upgrades, Richard said.
The courthouse project started in 2013, when employees of the 15th Judicial District Attorney’s Office vacated the sixth floor and set up shop in the downtown Lafayette building on Jefferson Street that formerly housed Whitney Bank. For the time being, District Attorney Keith Stutes, his prosecutors and their staff will remain in the old Whitney Bank building.
For the foreseeable future, floors six and seven will be the domain of the Clerk of Court’s Office.
The seventh floor will be occupied for the first time in 30 years. From 1965 until 1985, Lafayette Parish inmates were incarcerated on the top floor in an unairconditioned environment.
These days, after almost two years of work, the 19,000-square-foot seventh floor has a cavernous, warehouse look. And it feels like 72 degrees because one of the renovations involved installing air conditioning ducts to the top floor.
Demolition workers who in 2013 started cutting the iron cell bars with torches eventually gave way to craftsmen who installed four restrooms and replaced the windows; some employees will have an unobstructed view of St. John’s Cathedral and its majestic oak tree.
Reams of records both current and from way back — some old book-bounded property deeds are written in French — now line some of the walls. The age of one book, a thick leather-bound thing, can be guessed at by its title: “World War Soldiers and Sailors Discharge.”
Whenever the work is finished on floors one and two, Richard said, Clerk’s Office employees will return to the bottom two floors. Then, District Attorney’s Office personnel will return to the sixth floor, and work should begin on one of the middle floors where the courtrooms are located.
Richard said there has been no decision on the permanent role the seventh floor will play.
The courthouse was built in the 1960s. After Lafayette Parish voters in 2006 said no to a new courthouse that carried a $70 million price tag, the City-Parish Council began plans to refurbish the building. About $5 million was spent to replace the roof, update the fire alarm system and replace the cooling towers on the roof and chillers in the basement.