A new Livingston Parish courthouse moved closer to construction Thursday after winning the approval of a state panel.
The state Bond Commission quickly agreed to nearly $18 million in borrowing for the project.
“I don’t represent Livingston, but I’ve been there. They need a new courthouse,” said state Sen. Rob Marionneaux, D-Grosse Tete, a member of the state Bond Commission.
Marionneaux, who is a lawyer, said he hopes the project will result in a new courthouse and not a renovation of the existing building. He pressed project backers for a timeline.
The project’s financial adviser, Jim Ryan, agreed a new building is needed and assured Marionneaux that new construction is planned.
“It is long needed,” he said.
The next and final step, Ryan said, is to seek the approval of the Livingston Parish Council. He said the council must approve a bond resolution since the interest rate on the borrowing is unknown. He said construction is likely to take 18 months.
Fees will increase by $100 for civil suits and by $20 for deeds and mortgages on Aug. 11 to repay the borrowing on the bonds.
The fee increases stem from legislation that passed during the recent session. The hikes are expected to generate $1.4 million a year. The bonds would mature in 30 years.
State Rep. Bodi White, R-Central, who authored the fee increase legislation, said the new courthouse will be functional without being elaborate.
He said the existing courthouse is so outdated it is impossible to ensure the safety of court personnel and parties on both sides of cases.
“It’s an outdated, unsafe facility,” White said.
The courthouse will be built in Livingston off La. 63 about a mile from the existing courthouse. Neighbors will include the Livingston Parish Council chambers and the Coroner’s Office. The parish owns the land.
Livingston Parish Clerk of Court Tom Sullivan said architects are determining the cost of building what tentatively is planned as a 91,000-square-foot building. He said the architects will not be finished for another two months.
“I’m thinking we’re about a year out from construction,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said the bond sale is expected to generate enough money to build the shell of the courthouse and to finish courtrooms. He said courthouse occupants might have to use their savings to finish interiors and to pay for furnishings.
Sullivan blamed a crazy bond market for the money falling short.
Sullivan said court will be held in the new building once the courtrooms and public restrooms are complete.
He said court personnel may have to shuffle between more than one location until the entire interior is finished. A court annex is expected to relieve some of the overcrowding at the existing courthouse. Work is moving forward on that project.
The new courthouse will replace a building that dates to 1941. Sullivan said the 70-year-old building is a security nightmare with 17 exterior entrances and cramped corridors that give opposing sides in child-custody battles little room to avoid knocking elbows.
He said he envisions a courthouse with one public entrance outfitted with metal detectors.
He said the building probably will not be ready until 2014.
“We just need some security,” Sullivan said. “Security is the engine that’s driving this engine.”