New Avoyelles Parish courtroom complex site chosen

9-acres on La. Hwy 1 and Industrial Park Blvd.

One step has been taken, but two big steps remain before work can begin on a new home for Avoyelles Parish’s state district courtrooms.

A 9-acre tract off La. Hwy 1 and Industrial Park Boulevard was selected by 12th Judicial District Judges William Bennett and Kerry Spruill last week as the site for the proposed Avoyelles Justice Center.

The next step is to complete the building plans so the public can get a clear understanding of what will be included in the project, Mike Kelly said. Kelly is a leader in the effort to gain approval of a 1/2-cent sales tax to fund the Avoyelles Justice Center District.

The third important step is to call, hold and win approval of a sales tax to fund the construction of the Justice Center and support is operations.

The site adjacent to Kerotest and across the street from Detel Computer Solutions will be purchased from Roy Investment Properties for $333,234 if the tax is approved, Kelly said.

Architect Wayne Coco said the site is “outstanding” with good access from both La. Hwy 1 and Industrial Park Boulevard.

The one-story, 40,000 sq.ft. building will house at least two courtrooms -- and possibly a third in anticipation of a third judgeship being created at some point in the future.

RESTROOMS, PARKING

It will have ample public restrooms -- compared to the one, small restroom on the 3rd floor where the two courtrooms are currently located. There will be 220 parking spaces to provide sufficient parking for prospective jurors and others with judicial district business.

The building will be handicapped accessible and will not have elevators or stairs like the courthouse. It will comply with all building codes, Kelly said.

When the plans are finalized, the public will be invited to view them and to ask any questions about the need for the Justice Center, he added.

Once the plans are finished, the proponents of the project will be able to present an accurate cost estimate for the construction and operations of the Justice Center.

The Justice Center District will be administered by Bennett and Spruill. Legislation was adopted last year creating the district and separating it from the responsibility of the Avoyelles Police Jury.

Under that state legislation, the Police Jury would have nothing to do with the Justice Center construction and operations. It would not receive, manage or disburse the 1/2-cent sales tax to operate the center.

Now that a site has been selected and steps will be taken to present the sales tax proposition to the public, Kelly said he hopes people will visit the courthouse “and look at its interior with new eyes. I hope they see that it does not serve the needs of the public.”

The lack of bathrooms and parking area are often-cited problems. The inability to segregate inmates from the general public is also a concern.

SECURITY ISSUES

People also complain about the enhanced security at the courthouse when they are only going to the Clerk of Court, Registrar, Assessor or Police Jury office.

“The courthouse as it is constructed does not lend itself well to the enhanced sense of security needed in today’s society,” Kelly said.

“The other offices in the courthouse do not need that level of security, but in the courtrooms we are bringing together people who really do not like each other,” he continued. “Property disputes can get ugly. When you are dealing with custody of children, emotions can run high. It requires more security measures to protect against a tragedy occurring.”

Kelly said this is a “historic opportunity” to purchase a great site for a much-needed building.

“In the future, we will not be able to get that kind of site for this price,” he said.

“If this doesn’t work,” Kelly said, “we will probably go another 20 years until it comes up again, probably due to a disaster -- someone is hurt in the courtroom or in the courthouse, there’s a fire or the building is just condemned.

“The future is bleak when we talk about the courtrooms in the courthouse,” he said. “In my opinion, the future is now. It’s a case of ‘pay me now or pay me later.’ The problem is that it will cost much more later and it will probably come about due to a tragedy.”

AN APPROPRIATE PLACE

Kelly said the public needs to realize the need for an appropriate place to hold court.

“If they think court can be held under a big tent and this center is not necessary, then all I can say is ‘Welcome to the Third World,’ because that is what we would be,” Kelly said.

Kelly said a new Justice Center would not only better serve the public and the judicial system, but would also encourage economic development and growth in the parish.

A public commitment to improving the parish’s judicial system would send a message that Avoyelles Parish is working to move forward.

This could entice businesses and industries to the parish that would result in more tax revenues that would enable improving the public school system and the parish infrastructure system of roads, bridges and drainageways in the parish.

“We, the public of Avoyelles Parish, are being tested,” Kelly said.

That test has three questions: (1) Do we have a need for the Justice Center? (2) Is this a historic opportunity to achieve this? (3) Will things get worse if this is not done?

Kelly said he believes the answer to all three questions is a resounding “Yes.”

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