Friday tour will give Beauregard residents a closer look at cour - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Friday tour will give Beauregard residents a closer look at courthouse

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The Beauregard Parish courthouse was built around 1913. The Beauregard Parish courthouse was built around 1913.
The lift that leads to the main courtroom. Officials say it is often inoperable. The lift that leads to the main courtroom. Officials say it is often inoperable.
A stairwell inside the courthouse that leads to the main courtroom A stairwell inside the courthouse that leads to the main courtroom
A rendering of the upgrade and annex plans A rendering of the upgrade and annex plans
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DERIDDER, LA (KPLC) -

Beauregard Parish courthouse officials are inviting residents to stop by the parish courthouse from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday to get a closer look inside the facility.

Parish voters will decide a 15-year, 1/4 percent sales tax on Dec. 8 that, if approved, would be dedicated to handicapped accessibility upgrades and expansion of the aging building, which was built in 1913.

The money would allow renovation of the existing building and an annex to be built.

Court officials – and the public – have long complained of the building's inaccessibility. Some have said that its lack of access limits and discourages public access.

Division "A" Judge Martha O'Neal said that the public is welcome to stop by any time if they cannot make the Friday tour.

"The idea is to invite everyone in Beauregard Parish to come and see their courthouse," O'Neal said.

She said all of the court officials will be on hand to give tours and answer questions about their offices.

A steering committee has been meeting for months, examining options for the courthouse. The committee includes parish officials, citizens, architects, construction professionals and others.

The building does not have an elevator. Handicapped individuals must use a lift to access the main courtroom upstairs. Also, the building's only handicapped accessible restroom is located upstairs.

"Accessibility is an overall issue, it's not just the lift," O'Neal explained.

O'Neal said that many times, court workers have to meet residents with special needs at their vehicles to help them conduct their courthouse business.

"That's asking a lot of the people and a lot of the employees," O'Neal said.

O'Neal said, additionally, the courthouse is running out of space. The Clerk of Court is mandated to maintain parish records and O'Neal said space for those records is slim.

Court officials are also eyeing a new mandate for state district courts to implement security by July 2013.

O'Neal said judges are also handling more caseloads as the parish grows.

"Our parish is growing and we are quickly approaching the need for a third judge and that will require more space," she said.

The courthouse has two courtrooms – the main one upstairs and a smaller one downstairs which is not large enough to accommodate jury trials.

"If the tax doesn't pass, the courthouse could be closed," O'Neal said.

O'Neal said that the steering committee looked at several options, including purchasing property and building a new courthouse. She said that option and others were cost prohibitive.

She said when members toured the Morehouse Parish courthouse in Bastrop, which was built similarly to the Beauregard courthouse and designed by the same individual, they knew that renovation of the existing building and an annex would be possible.

"We got to see ahead of time what it looked like and what could happen," she said.

O'Neal said that courthouse officials have received a good response from the public on the proposal.

"We are very optimistic about this," she said.

Early voting for the Dec. 8 election continues through Saturday and takes place at parish registrar of voters' offices from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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