After more than a decade of planning and nearly two years of construction, the new Livingston Parish courthouse soon will open its doors for business.
The $20.4 million construction project is substantially complete, and the parish agencies it will house begin moving in this week, starting with the Clerk of Court and Sheriff’s Office.
The Clerk of Court’s Office will spend two weeks trucking over crates of files and boxes of supplies with the goal of opening for business Dec. 15, said Ann Wimberly, Clerk of Court supervisor. Court pleadings can be filed at the old courthouse until the Clerk’s Office closes up shop there at 4:30 p.m. Dec. 12.
“The plans are to have a couple people stationed in the old office that can at least give people information and directions to the new courthouse because over a couple-week period all the agencies will be moving around,” Wimberly said.
The Sheriff’s Office will provide security for the clerk’s staff during the move and will follow with its own move beginning Dec. 14, said Sgt. Gene Higginbotham, department spokesman. Sheriff’s operations should be fully transferred to the new courthouse by New Year’s Day.
The judges and District Attorney’s Office for the 21st Judicial District also will be up and running in the new location by the time court hearings resume in January.
“Everybody has already started boxing up files and whatever can be boxed ahead of time for the move,” Higginbotham said of the Sheriff’s Office.
The Clerk’s Office furniture has been installed over the past few weeks, and technology installation, including computers and phones, will begin this week, Wimberly said. But the bulk of the clerk’s move consists of transferring the thousands of records — court filings, marriage licenses, land records — that the office oversees as the parish’s official record-keeper.
“We’ve hired professional movers and are coordinating with them as to how it will be done,” Wimberly said. “We’re micromanaging that, I suppose, because we’re charged with keeping those records and keeping them safe. That’s quite an undertaking.”
Building the new courthouse was quite an undertaking in itself.
Longtime Councilman Marshall Harris has described it as a “20-year project” in which the parish’s first president, Dewey Ratcliff, envisioned the campus of parish government buildings the new courthouse joins. Former Parish President Mike Grimmer’s administration oversaw the financing for the project and Parish President Layton Ricks and the council have overseen the construction.
The contract to design the courthouse was signed in 2003, but funding for the project proved elusive for years, until Clerk of Court Tommy Sullivan offered in 2010 to raise his office’s filing fees. The proceeds were then used to back $17.2 million in bonds for the construction.
When the lowest construction bid came in at $18.4 million and total costs were projected at $20.4 million, the four agencies moving into the new building split the shortfall by paying an additional $1.8 million total. The rest of the cost was covered by $622,722 in sales tax exemptions on building material purchases and roughly $417,000 in cost-saving change orders worked out by Labarre Associates, which administered the construction.
The Parish Council also approved spending an extra $300,000 to extend Government Boulevard.
Jay Labarre, president of Labarre Associates, said the most amazing part of the venture is that it never received a single negative vote at any stage of the process, from the state Supreme Court’s and Legislature’s approval of the financing arrangement to the parish agencies’ and council’s approval of the design and work.
“We didn’t have a penny to spare at the end of the day. We really didn’t,” Labarre said. “But we were able to bring this thing in because the design team worked in minute detail with all of the agencies. We got cooperation from even the agencies that didn’t go into the courthouse, and all the administrations from Ratcliff to Grimmer to Ricks and the council stayed engaged.”
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen.