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DayeTime: 'Repurposing' the courthouse

A few years ago I used the phrase, “They wouldn’t take ‘Yes’ for an answer” to describe a negotiation between the School Board and Red River Charter. Whatever the board asked, RRCA said, “Okay.” The board members still refused to approve the proposed charter school’s application to open.

This column is not about that, but I was reminded of it when I saw a recent response to my column about the condition of the courthouse and the need for a parish to think about its future at least as much as it does its past.

Jacques Goudeau, president of Marksville Main Street non-profit and a leader in the move to create a downtown Marksville historic district, seems to be saying the same thing I was.

We need to “repurpose” our historic buildings -- in this case, the courthouse.

Does anyone else find it ironic -- or is it more hypocritical than ironic -- that the home of the parish government would be unable to pass a building inspection that it requires of private property owners wishing to build or remodel in this parish?

Maybe I’m wrong. I’m not an engineer, but I know several who have expressed doubts the Grande Dame is “up to code.”

If the courthouse does meet those building codes, I apologize. However, I will withhold the apology until after the Police Jury accepts the challenge to send their building code inspector through just those floors of the courthouse still occupied and in use.

We’ll give them a pass on the unused 4th Floor.

I don’t expect that to happen.

I suspect a written list of the violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act alone would break a camel’s back.

I agree with Goudeau that the courthouse is a magnificent structure. I said so in the column he took exception to.

Again, a case of disagreeing with someone who is agreeing with you.

In truth, I can’t blame Jacques for misreading or misunderstanding what I was saying. That is probably my fault.

My best critic -- my wife -- says I over-write. This may cause the reader to go on auto-pilot and stop comprehending what his eyes are passing over.

Mia culpa. Sorry. I’ll try to do better (but probably won’t).

I wrote a column even before the current Justice Center proposal was proposed that said the courthouse would be better suited to housing a museum or offices for various civic organizations and non-profits committed to community improvement than it is a modern court system.

I never proposed moving the courthouse to the state highway.

Truth be told, if I had a magic wand and could impose my will on the community, I’d poof a modern courthouse in downtown Marksville and leave the old one standing for the above-noted purposes.

Unfortunately, that would mean demolishing a lot of historic buildings and forcing several downtown offices to relocate -- probably to the state highway.

It would be interesting to get a real estimate on what it would cost to gut the courthouse and remodel the interior to create a modern, functional, visitor-friendly public service facility.

My comments about the courthouse eventually becoming unusable were based on there being no major infusion of tax dollars to give the Grand Lady a second 100-year lease on life.

Why would I thinks such a thing? Well, how many “new” taxes have been approved in the past several years?

Maybe it would cost less than $9 million, maybe it would cost twice that. Maybe it would be worth the cost even if it DID cost twice that.

Like the building code inspection, I doubt the overhaul option will ever be pursued.

The point I was grasping for in the recent column is that constructing a courtroom building now for $9 million will enable the courthouse to remain in use to house the other government offices for several more years.

What I didn’t say -- because that is another issue for another day -- is that there would have to be a significant cost incurred to address the most serious safety deficiencies to extend the courthouse’s use for very many more years even if it is “repurposed.”

If the court system’s needs are not addressed soon, the next tax proposition will probably be an onerous mix of sales tax and property tax to build a whole new courthouse.

Think 1-cent sales tax and 60-mill property tax just to get your juices running. If that sends you into apoplectic seizures, just think about a 1/2-cent and 30-mill tax package.

That proposition may or may not have a court order attached to it. Hopefully there wouldn’t be a multi-million dollar federal lawsuit as an addendum.

I still stand by my statement that those who are stuck in the past are just stuck.

That does not mean we should abandon those good things about our past.

It does mean we should not forget that there will be a future, whether we want it or not.

We should do whatever we can to make sure that future is at least as bright as we nostalgically remember our past to have been.

You see, the “Good Old Days” weren’t as good as we remember they were, but the new days to come can be as good as we dare to make them.

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MARKSVILLE WEEKLY

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