GONZALES — After Ascension Parish and judicial officials spent last year gathering support and lining up funding for a new parish courthouse, the $26 million building proposed for Gonzales is inching forward with a new project manager in place and an architect close at hand, officials said.
Ascension Parish government officials said this week they expect to receive the last of the architectural proposals to design the new courthouse, estimated to be three to four stories high and 80,000 square feet, by a Thursday deadline.
The Parish Council also agreed last week on an owner’s representative contract for up to $50,000 with a consulting firm owned by former parish planning commissioner and semi-retired Ascension Parish professional engineer and certified project manager, Gasper Chifici, according to parish and state business records.
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Since last year, the judges of the 23rd Judicial District Court have made public their plans for a new courthouse. They have said the current annex in Gonzales, which had a major courtroom addition finished in 2003, is too small for the court docket and lacks security features of most modern courthouses. The courts are financing the project through new civil court filing fees that took effect Dec. 1 and will back long-term debt the council agreed last year to take out.
Martin McConnell, parish government spokesman, said that once all architectural proposals are submitted, the parish will then refer them to one of the parish's selection committees for review and ranking. The council makes the final decision.
Judge Jason Verdigets, of the 23rd Judicial District Court, has said that he and Clerk of Court Bridget Hanna, who have been leading in the development of the courthouse plans, will also sit on the parish review committee.
Ken Dawson, parish chief administrative officer, said G & D PM Consulting Services LLC, which is Chifici’s firm, is being used in a new approach for parish projects in which the company, known as an owner's representative, will serve as a project manager and oversee several phases of the courthouse from its architectural conception to its eventual construction.
"We need someone in that process to be an advocate for the parish to kind of make sure that the needs of the parish are being looked at through this whole phase, not only on going out for the (architectural proposals) but also when we go through the construction process and design process,” Dawson said in interview Jan. 25 after the council agreed to hire G&D PM Consulting Services.
Verdigets added in an interview that the judges and other court officials needed a company like G&D PM Consulting to be over the project, especially during the construction phase, because they don’t have the time with their own jobs or level of knowledge to provide that kind of oversight.
“We’re needing someone to do that for us, report back to us and someone who understands the building process,” he said. “That’s not my expertise, obviously.”
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Verdigets said the owner’s representative will be paid out of funds set aside for the courthouse and not parish funds.
McConnell said Tuesday a copy of the contract is not yet available because the council only agreed last week to move forward with reaching the agreement.
Before Chifici's retirement and formation of G&D PM, he worked briefly for the Baton Rouge engineering and planning consulting outfit, CSRS Inc., from 2012 to 2014 as a senior project manager. Before that, he worked more than a decade as a project director with Atkins and, even earlier, as an associate with Camp Dresser & McKee, according to Chifici's LinkedIn account.
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The state ethics code bars appointed commissioners from doing public business that is under the supervision of or is in the interest of the bodies on which they currently sit. Chifici's last meeting on the Planning Commission was in January 2016 after he submitted his resignation letter the previous month. Coming along with other resignations, his departure was part of major membership change to the volunteer, council-appointed body.