The check that Louisiana officials said would be in the mail this year has not arrived, leaving Lafayette city-parish government to foot more than its agreed-upon share of the $15 million Lafayette Parish Courthouse renovation, officials said.
It’s forcing officials with Lafayette Consolidated Government, which owns and maintains the building, and the Clerk of Court’s Office to dip into local coffers and hope Louisiana makes good on its promise later.
The lag in funds has slowed, but not stopped, the work that in September forced District Attorney’s Office personnel to temporarily move from the sixth floor to offices in the downtown building that formerly housed The Whitney Bank.
“We’re still doing some level of work,” said Kevin Blanchard, LCG Public Works director.
Kay Richard, LCG’s project director for the courthouse, said the state money did not arrive this year.
“We’re having to fund it ourselves, which will take a little longer,” Richard said. “They just stopped funding because they’re out of money for now.”
The renovations were planned after parish voters in December 2006 rejected paying for a new $70 million courthouse. To fund the improvements, LCG allocated $6 million and Louisiana pledged $9 million through its capital outlay borrowings. But so far, Louisiana has paid only $2.7 million, and LCG is getting close to its cap with about $4.6 million already, Richard said.
There’s a lot of work left to do.
On March 30, two of the building’s four public elevators — both on the building’s west side — will be shut down to install new, faster lifts. An elevator on the building’s north face that transports parish prisoners to and from court sessions is also being replaced.
Richard said it will take about three months to install all three elevators. That’s about the length of time it took install two elevators on the building’s east side in 2013.
She also said LCG is paying the entire $1.125 million tab to construct and install the last three elevators, and will bill Louisiana for its portion later.
“We’ll find out in July if they’ve (legislators) given us anything in the (capital outlay) bill,” Richard said.
This year’s legislative session starts April 13 and ends June 11, two months during which legislators decide which construction projects get state funding.
Even though the courthouse project was on a priority tier that usually guarantees funding, Richard said, it didn’t come through for this fiscal year.
“We’re continually trying to get funds from other sources while the state plays catch-up,” she said.
The elevator project that will start next week prompted officials to delay renovations to the first two floors, which house the Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court’s Office. The delay means officials will wait until the summer to move Clerk of Court Louis Perret’s 130 employees from those floors to the sixth and seventh floors.
Perret said moving from the first two floors — which are connected by escalators for easy passage — to floors six and seven would have created unprecedented lines of people: Visitors and employees trying to get to courtrooms on floors three, four and five, and also to the Clerk of Court’s Office on floors six and seven, would be jockeying for passage on just two elevators.
Adding to the foot traffic would be scores of Correctional Center inmates escorted each week to courthouse hearings and trials. And sheriff’s deputies pulling lines of shackled prisoners to court routinely jump in front of civilians waiting to board elevators.
Perret said installation of the two elevators on the building’s east side, which took months to complete in 2013, gave courthouse officials a taste of what the latter half of 2015 will bring.
“It was a major inconvenience to the public as well as the 300 or so employees who work in the building,” Perret said.
Perret also lamented what LCG is not planning to improve in the courthouse: obsolete aluminum wiring will remain in place; the building is a long way from adhering to federal handicapped accessibility laws; and there are no plans to build a holding cell for inmates. That means prisoners, some of them violent, will continue to be escorted among through the courthouse when they have court dates.
“We have some severe safety concerns,” Perret said. “We’re just one takeover incident away from a catastrophe happening.”
Perret said he has advocated building a new courthouse and will continue to do so.
“We think there’s a case to be made that the courthouse is woefully neglected, even with the improvements” being made now, he said.