West Feliciana Parish courthouse... 03/13/03

West Feliciana Parish courthouse in St. Francisville

ST. FRANCISVILLE — A state district judge on Monday declined to stop the West Feliciana Parish government's replacement of windows on the 115-year-old courthouse in the town's historic district, but town officials voted Tuesday to continue legal action.

Judge William Carmichael, of 20th Judicial District, last week denied St. Francisville's request for a temporary restraining order to halt the work and, after a brief hearing Monday, denied the town's request for a preliminary injunction in the dispute.

The town's Board of Aldermen voted Feb. 27 to issue a stop work order to parish President Kevin Couhig and the company chosen to replace the wood-framed windows with metal-framed replacements.

After Couhig would not accept the order, the town filed a lawsuit Friday in an effort to halt the work because the parish did not consult with the town's Historic District Commission or obtain a building permit.

The board and the lawsuit say the replacement windows are a major deviation from the historical integrity of the structure, which a marker outside the building says was built in 1903.

A National Park Service description of the town says the courthouse, which the park service says was built in 1905, is a contributing factor on the National Historic Trust's designation of a historic district in the old part of town.

Couhig said the new windows look the same as the old when the building is viewed from the street.

About 50 people appeared to support the town's position during the brief Monday hearing in the courthouse, but Carmichael did not give reasons for his ruling.

Mayor Billy D'Aquilla said after the hearing that he would call a special Board of Aldermen meeting Tuesday to continue pursuing a permanent injunction, which would require a formal trial.

Meanwhile, Couhig said he will hold off on completing the work to give the town's leaders time to decide "if they want to go to a full trial."

Couhig said the wood frames of the windows were rotten and coated with lead-based paint, but Town Attorney Leslie Daniel argued the parish has known about that condition since 2002, when an architect's report on the building raised the lead paint issue.

She told Carmichael the parish has had 16 years to develop a plan to remediate the hazardous material, which it could have done in consultation with the town's Historic District Commission.

The lawsuit also sought an order requiring Couhig to retain the windows that were removed until the dispute is resolved.

Couhig said the contractor removed about two-thirds of the estimated 75 windows in the building, but the $54,000 contract called for proper disposal of the windows.

"They're gone," he said.

Couhig said a bid on replacing the old windows with new ones with wood frames was $163,000.

The two sides in the dispute differed on whether the town has jurisdiction over parish-owned buildings and whether the replacement windows constitute a design change.