Behind the scenes tour of Beauregard Parish Courthouse - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Behind the scenes tour of Beauregard Parish Courthouse

The Beauregard Parish Courthouse in DeRidder has undergone massive renovations over the past few years and is set to open the first week of September. (Source: KPLC) The Beauregard Parish Courthouse in DeRidder has undergone massive renovations over the past few years and is set to open the first week of September. (Source: KPLC)
DERIDDER, LA (KPLC) -

A historic Beauregard Parish landmark, once in jeopardy of being abandoned or torn down, is restored to its former glory and brought up to this century's building codes.

We go inside the Beauregard Parish Courthouse in DeRidder for a behind the scenes tour, one month before it is set to open to the public.

Since May 2014, Judge Martha Ann O'Neal has been at this construction site for weekly, sometimes daily, updates.

"We're on a first name basis with the contractors and everybody over here," said Judge O'Neal.

The Beauregard Parish Courthouse is the focal point of the community, in the heart of DeRidder, on a strip of land that holds so much history.

"These [court room] doors would be opened so you could feel a breeze come through and that was the only circulation of air in the courtroom," said Judge O'Neal.

Times have changed since the courthouse was completed in 1914.  Codes have changed and the needs of people in this parish have changed, which is why a tough decision had to be made in 2012, when repairs were so badly needed that these doors risked being closed forever.

"We saw the potential for this building," said Judge O'Neal.  "We also were very frustrated by the lack of access for individuals with disabilities."

We have covered that issue for years: where people trying to take care of business at the courthouse became stranded inside, had to be carried up stairs by strangers when an old lift broke, and some court cases had to be moved to the police jury building because jurors could not even get into the building without a ramp.  

"One suggestion was to tear down the courthouse and start from the beginning," said Judge O'Neal.  "But there was so much very good, expensive parts of this courthouse.  The outside of it was in such great shape that there was no reason to do that and it would actually have ended up costing more money to do it that manner."

The choice was left up to voters.  68 percent approved a 15 year, quarter cent sales tax, specifically to renovate and maintain the parish courthouse.

Today, there are still construction materials on site, lots of construction workers, but the project is in its final days. 

Standing in the foyer on freshly refinished marble floors, Judge O'Neal says, "This is exactly what it looked like when we moved out of here."

The goal: keep the history, the touches that made this building special across the generations.

"This courtroom was always so beautiful with all the woodwork," said Judge O'Neal.  "We can see the colors and the mural. The beautiful dome has been opened.  It's an amazing building."

The restoration was no easy feat, especially considering the original architectural plans could not be found.

Still, architect Paul LeMaire with the Corne-LeMaire Group in Lafayette, found a way to discover the building's bones.

"The courthouse in Morehouse Parish, up above Monroe, was built one year later," said LeMaire.  "We had access to those plans and this building was generally built the same way."

LeMaire says a lot of changes had to be made with electrical, plumbing, and lighting.  But you will see original doors, some of the 100-plus year old floors, and lots of the original windows and walls.

"We kept the touches that were there, but just kind of fixed them up and cleaned them up, then added the new stuff where we needed to add it," said LeMaire.

The elevators  are just one part of the renovation that reflects a broader access to justice for anyone in the parish, regardless of their mobility or special needs.

"People did not have access to come to court if they were in that situation," said Judge O'Neal.  "Even if they wanted to serve on jury, they couldn't do that.  Now, they have complete accessibility, we have elevators and this meets with all modern day requirements of ADA."

Making this a community courthouse for all, built to last another 100 years.

The budget for the project was $13 million and has come in below that at $12 million.  

The Clerk of Courts Office is moving in this week, furniture is set to arrive next week, and the first day of court is Tuesday, September 5.

There will be a dedication ceremony happening in October.  We will share those event details when they become available.

Copyright KPLC 2017.  All rights reserved.

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