Featured Photograph by Freddie Herpin.
From the first floor to the roof, the St. Landry Parish Courthouse is now featuring a refreshed appearance that was unveiled ceremoniously Tuesday morning to a sizable crowd that witnessed firsthand approximately $3.4 million of construction improvements.
Parish president Jessie Bellard, whose administration has presided over three years of courthouse renovations and additions, said the parish has used federal, state and local revenues to provide enhancements for the 84-year-old building located in the downtown center of Opelousas.
Completed spending included refitting the 228 windows on all three courthouse floors, building a third-floor courtroom for the district judges, the addition of an exterior handicap ramp that provides easier access to the front steps, locating and refurbishing a late-19th century copper bell now displayed and used on the courthouse grounds, renovating the assessor’s office, installing new outside lighting and creating a flag display that rippled in the mid-morning breeze.
The courthouse roof has also been improved, the outside of the building has been cleaned and brushed, while the trees and vegetation have been invigorated with the help of Opelousas Downtown Development revenues, said Bellard.
St. Landry Now.com publisher Carola Hartley provided the spectators with a brief history of the courthouse buildings which have been located at the current site.
Hartley reminded the audience that a first courthouse and jail were first built at the current location in 1807.
Since then there have been several courthouses that have been either rebuilt or redesigned. The current courthouse building, now on the National Register of Historic Places, is the stone structure that was completed in 1939, Hartley said.
District 40 representative Dustin Miller said that the projects were necessary, since the courthouse is the place where parish business is frequently conducted.
“It has always been considered as the heartbeat of the parish,” Miller noted.
Bellard said the timeline for the projects advanced quickly after the parish received COVID-19 relief revenues from the federal government. Then for other improvements, Bellard said state money was acquired by the parish.
Many of the courthouse issues that were highlighted on Tuesday were long overdue, Bellard added.
Since the parish had received an influx of federal money, Bellard said that he began planning the courthouse projects almost immediately after initially being sworn-in.
“There was a need for this to happen for a long time. It was either spend the (American Rescue Act) money now or borrow the money at some point later. We also went to the state and got the money,” Bellard said.
The integrity of the courthouse architecture was threatened when workers there noticed areas of the building that were leaking.
Dripping water, Bellard said, was occurring not from the roof, but from rusting windows primarily on the north side, which were allowing weather and moisture to slowly damage the building.
Visitors were invited to tour the new floor courtroom, which Bellard said gives the judges more space for advancing the civil and criminal dockets.
“We had four judges and three courtrooms. Judges were always going here and there to find a courtroom. This is something that the judges have been asking for,” Bellard added.
Bellard said he is especially excited about the display of the three flags and the ambiance created when the new outside lighting strikes them after dusk.
The handicapped ramp at the front of the courthouse provides better handicapped access, since the elevator on the north side of the building has frequently experienced mechanical problems, said Bellard.
Bellard said the courthouse bell was discovered accidentally in an obscured area of a first floor room. The bell, which has had various uses at the courthouse since the 1880’s is now located on the courthouse grounds and was briefly rung by Bellard after the event was over.
St. Landry Parish President Jessie Bellard rings the century old SLP Courthouse Bell that once sat on the top floor of the courthouse. (Photograph by Freddie Herpin.)