Courthouse renovation timeline extended

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 15, 2012

By Richard Meek
Contributing Writer

EDGARD – A project that has been in the works for more than three years may finally be inching toward construction.

St. John the Baptist Parish Chief Administrative Officer Theresa Rodgers told council members during a meeting Tuesday night design plans for the long-awaited renovation of the courthouse in Edgard have been finalized.

“Hopefully at the next meeting I will be coming to you for approval to go out to bid,” she said. “Certain elements must be (finalized).”

But Rodgers’ news came with the caveat the time period allotted for construction would have to be extended by five months at an additional cost of $28,500. She said the five-month extension will allow for a minimal disruption of daily courthouse proceedings, and the delay was asked for by judges and other courthouse officials.

“I looked at this and wondered if we needed the extension,” Council Chairman Lucien Gauff said. “We could have finished the project in six months.”

But he added the goal was not to put “everyone out of the courthouse, get the work done while we use one side of the courthouse would extend our time.  That’s where the additional five months come in.”

Rodgers added “being able to operate is a critical concern.”

Councilman Art Smith said he had two concerns with the project, one being how much longer will the firm of Chenevert Architects continue to work on the project and the second a question about the firm being paid mileage to and from the courthouse.

Rodgers said Chenevert’s responsibilities will cease once the project is substantially complete and was quick to add no mileage is being paid to the firm.

Smith also questioned several of Chenevert’s expenses and wondered if the change order was a ploy to “grab a little bit more money.”

The extension increases Chenevert’s tab to $165,500. An increase of $42,000 in the architectural fee was approved in April, which brought the total to $137,000. During that meeting it was also reported the project would go out to bid in a matter of weeks but it still remains in the planning stages.

The projected cost for the project is $1.34 million, up from the original estimate of $905,000.

Parish President Natalie Robottom assured Smith the latest extension was the request of the “stakeholders and administrators,” who were seeking as little inconvenience as possible.

At the cornerstone of the multi-faceted project is construction of a new wing for juvenile defendants so they and their attorneys can be segregated from adult defendants. Plans also call for wiring upgrades of the aging buildings, as well as additional security for judges and more space for the clerk of court offices.

In other council news, the parish has accepted ownership of the Interstate 10 Frontage Road and Louisiana Highway 639 from the state Department of Transportation and Development.

Rodgers said under the DODT’s Road Swap program, the department provides a source of funding for the parish to accept a state road that has no purpose to the state. Before turning the road over to the parish, the DODT will patch, resurface and restripe the road.

The payoff for the parish is a $456,000 credit that will go toward operation of the Reserve-Edgar ferry.

Also, council members approved a resolution asking the DODT to expand Louisiana Highway 3127 on the west bank from two to four lanes. The 42.1-mile road was originally constructed to accommodate four lanes but it remains two in Ascension, St. James and St. John parishes before turning into four lanes as it crosses in St. Charles Parish.