Ten-plus years in the works, new $20M Livingston Parish courthouse almost ready to open _lowres

Advocate staff photo by ANGELA MAJOR -- Construction is wrapping up on Livingston Parish's new courthouse on Government Boulevard in Livingston, La. Parish agencies will begin moving into the new building over the holidays, and the court is scheduled to begin holding session there in early January.

Livingston Parish is upgrading its fire and police dispatch center as it moves forward with plans for a $1.5 million project to move into the new courthouse and improve its equipment.

One feature of the new technology will allow people to text to 911, said Sheriff Jason Ard. Radio systems and other equipment also will be upgraded, said Livingston Mayor Derral Jones, who serves on the parish communications district. Ard said the dispatch center also would build more redundancies into the communications systems.

Much of the project’s cost will go toward finishing the third floor of the new parish courthouse, where various agencies began to operate in late 2014 and early 2015. Parish leaders have been talking about moving the 911 center into the building for nearly two years.

At present, the third floor has two courtrooms, though the 4,000-square-foot area that will eventually house dispatchers still has bare floors and exposed insulation on the walls and ceiling.

The parish communications district is paying for the renovations and equipment by issuing $1.5 million in bonds. The amount is about equal to the district’s annual revenue, the mayor said. Funding comes from a tariff on parish phone bills. Cellphone bills, for example, include an extra 85 cents per month for the district, though land lines pay in too, Jones said.

The bonds used to pay for the new dispatch center are scheduled to be paid off in 2028, according to a public notice.

When asked, authorities said they didn’t have a specific timeline for completing the project, though Jones said the district was preparing to open bids for engineering work.

When complete, the dispatch center will be staffed around the clock by an average of about a dozen workers at a time, said sheriff’s spokeswoman Lori Steele.

Dispatchers work out of a site at 29126 S. Satsuma Road. Steele said officials have not yet determined what will become of that property once dispatch moves into its new home.

Authorities have said the move will be good for the 911 center because it puts dispatch in the same building as the Sheriff’s Office, and the new courthouse has much better security than their current location.

“We are able to make this move because fire chiefs, law enforcement leaders and members of the 911 district have been working together as a team to put the district in this positive position,” Ard said.

“Livingston Parish is growing. We must be prepared and plan ahead. Upgrading our location and equipment will allow us to provide a better service to parish residents.”

Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.