LIVINGSTON — A new Livingston Parish Courthouse will alleviate several problems caused by the outdated current facility, portions of which are seven decades old, officials said Friday.
Safety and security when court is in session are major concerns for people who work in the courthouse, said Ann Wimberly, a supervisor with the Clerk of Court’s Office.
The State Bond Commission on Thursday approved a plan by the parish to borrow nearly $18 million for a new courthouse to be built approximately one mile south of the current facility.
All that remains is for the Parish Council to approve a resolution to issue the revenue bonds, which should be a formality, Council Chairman Randy Rushing said.
“It’s not going to be any trouble,” he said. “As long as everything is legit and legal, I don’t see a problem with it.”
Right now, members of the public enter the courthouse through one of a dozen entrances and go into three of the four courtrooms without ever passing through a metal detector, Wimberly said.
“We had a deal where some kid in a juvenile proceeding stabbed one of the bailiffs a few years ago,” said District Judge Robert Morrison, who has long advocated the need for a new courthouse.
“There have been some tense times.”
When jury trials are scheduled, other criminal matters must move upstairs to a tiny courtroom, Wimberly said.
That forces other defendants and witnesses who can’t fit into the courtroom to wait in a hallway only 6 feet wide, Wimberly said.
It can be difficult to navigate through the crowds, she said.
Tensions often mount when opponents in Family Court are forced to stand or sit in close proximity to one another, Wimberly said.
Members of Court Appointed Special Advocates, a group representing children in legal cases, have been “very uneasy because of some of the tense situations,” Wimberly said.
Building safety is also a concern, Wimberly said.
Exposed wiring and holes in some walls are visible in stairwells and hallways.
In the past, during hard rain, employees of the Clerk’s Office have had to put plastic up over cubicles to prevent water from dripping onto computer equipment, Wimberly said.
“One time, they could see water in a light fixture above the desks,” she said, pointing to the fixture.
Part of the main courthouse was opened in 1941. Additions have been tacked on at least twice, officials said.
“It’s a hodgepodge of add-ons,” Morrison said.
“It was probably state-of-the-art when it was built in the ’60s or ’70s, but it is not anywhere near able to accommodate us now.”
The add-ons have created a maze that makes the facility hard to get around in. Signs in the building read “This Way” and “Hallway to Main Lobby” with large arrows pointing the public in the right direction.
The population of Livingston Parish was 17,790 in 1940, according to U.S. census data.
It was more than 128,000 in the 2010 census, figures from the U.S. Census Bureau’s website show.
The growth in population has been mirrored in the number of courthouse employees.
“I am totally busting at the seams,” Clerk of Court Thomas Sullivan said. Since 2000, “the caseload has doubled or tripled,” he added.
“Not only is it cramped, but it’s so antiquated,” Sheriff Willie Graves said. “We have less square feet, and what we have is not efficiently used.”
Judge Morrison said there are several options for the new courthouse.
“One prospect is that they would tear down the old building, but leave the oldest part of the courthouse,” he said. “They are trying to get it on the National Register of Historic Places.”
The idea of moving the assessor’s and the registrar of voters’ offices into the facility also has been proposed, Morrison said.
Courthouse plans have not yet been made final, he said.
The new building would be built with expansion in mind, Morrison said.
“We have plenty of dirt down at that site,” he said, referring to the location where the new courthouse would be built.
Morrison said he hopes to be in the new building sometime in 2014.