If you're curious to see a renovation project done almost entirely by prisoners, the old red schoolhouse on South Boulevard in Beauregard Town offers the latest example.
The building, which started out as the Louisiana School for the Deaf in 1939 and later housed the Baton Rouge Police Department, has been gutted from top to bottom and features desks, chairs, cabinetry and large conference tables made from scratch by state inmates.
The renovated space, adjacent to the Department of Public Safety and Corrections headquarters at 504 Mayflower St., will house employees of that agency's credit union along with Prison Enterprises, the branch of the department that sells inmate-made products to public agencies.
The $6.9 million price tag is considered a bargain given how much the project likely would have cost if the labor hadn't been essentially free.
The two-story structure, also called "Building 10," will have showrooms for potential customers to shop around for the other items that Louisiana's inmates make, like state license plates, jail beds, prison outfits and office furniture.
Some nearly-completed rooms with bright walls and stark, slanting sunlight resembled naked art galleries on a recent Thursday. An old-fashioned seal of Louisiana with a mint-green background, part of the original building, remains inlaid in the lobby.
Members of the city police department, who worked in the building when it sparkled considerably less, are likely to be envious to see what's been done with the place.
There are even plans to have inmates provide some of the artwork in the building.
The project's manager, Gary Shotwell, said he's also hoping a talented prisoner will paint a mural above the teller windows in the credit union, a bank only open to corrections employees and to those who work for certain organizations that contract with the state agency such as private prison operators LaSalle Corrections and Louisiana Workforce LLC.
Baton Rouge government named 'top 10 digital city'
For the second year in a row, Baton Rouge has been named one of the Center for Digital Government's top 10 digital cities.
The city-parish's geographic information systems department has been particularly visible over the past year, and has created several maps in the aftermath of floods that devastated Baton Rouge showing the extent of the damage. They also used maps to show in real time where crews were picking up debris across the parish.
Baton Rouge was ranked 10th overall last year and moved up to being ranked 5th overall this year.
“I can’t say enough about the work of our entire team throughout the past year in terms of all the strides we’ve made with technology, particularly given some of these advances have come during one of the most devastating natural disasters in the history of the U.S.,” said Eric Romero, the city-parish's interim director of the Department of Information Services.
Prison health care privatization delayed again
Baton Rouge's Metro Council again delayed voting on a contract Wednesday to privatize health care at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison in the wake of push back from the health care professionals who work there.
Mayor-President Kip Holden's administration wants to privatize the medical care at the parish prison, which they say would give them better budget stability and lead to better patient outcomes. But the prison's nurses and doctors have disagreed, saying the city is getting the raw end of the deal with the company CorrectHealth.
"If you take your time and really look at this contract, there's a lot of pitfalls in there you're not aware of," said physician Charlie Bridges, one of the doctors who works at the prison.
Nurses went to the Metro Council more than a year ago and asked for help with dangerously low levels of staffing and supply shortages. Some said they felt like city-parish leaders are now retaliating against them for asking for help.
The Metro Council is scheduled to vote on the contract November 22.
Advocate staff writers Maya Lau and Andrea Gallo contributed to this article.