“Monumental” Courthouse project contract approved by Council [without input from Matassa]

Built just over a decade ago, existing Gonzales Courthouse sacrificed function to form

Momentous…Monumental…in the words of Council Chairwoman Teri Casso, the contract to build a new courthouse planned for E Worthey St in Gonzales was approved by resolution Thursday at its historic Donaldsonville counterpart.  The price tag ($27,438,395) is guaranteed by the first in Ascension “Construction Manager at-risk” contract with $25 million worth of bonds issued, secured by increased filing fees on all legal business.  The overage will be prorated to governmental entities plying their trades at the courthouse.

All told those entities committed $4,559,660 to the pot:

  • Clerk of Court-$3,213,163
  • APSO-$892,754
  • 23rd JDC-$403,743
  • Parish Court-$50,000

That is according to Ascension’s Parish Attorney.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars will be saved by employing “tilted-up wall” construction instead of a steel frame according to Project Manager Gaspar Chifici.

The new courthouse will comply with all applicable ordinances, both parish and those in the City of  Gonzales’ code.  Chifici assured the project will be “Zero Net Fill” with increased detention capacity by enlarging an existing pond, enabled by the acquisition of 5.5 acres adjacent to the proposed courthouse for $450,000.  Additional drainage improvements will also be undertaken.

According to Chifici the project will not require fill material in excess of three feet.  The Council introduced an ordinance capping fill at three feet, without exception, on April  4 but the requisite public hearing/vote has yet to be scheduled.

That legislation was proposed to East Ascension Drainage Board (by HNTB engineers) last May.  Appearing on, and removed from, multiple EAD agendas, that body’s chairman would explain on August 6, 2018:

“I think there’s a couple of things we’re looking at here,” EA Drainage Board Chairman Dempsey Lambert interrupted Councilman Bill Dawson’s Q & A with HNTB’s Melissa Kennedy.  “We need to be clear; what we’re fixing to do here, we’re not gonna double standard what we’re trying to improve here.  There’s too many projects that are fixing to happen and I don’t want this to interfere with any of them.”

EAD Chairman Dempsey Lambert was referring, specifically, to the new courthouse.  It was the only project “fixing to happen” though he threw in Laurel Ridge Levee extension for some reason.

Judge Jason Verdigets was on hand Thursday to discuss the “dire” need for a new courthouse’s state-of-the-art security features.  “Due to the number of inmates…(because of)….the growth of dockets” inmates come into frequent contact with court personnel.

Judge Jason Verdigets (file photo)

Verdigets was the judiciary’s representative on the Courthouse Committee along with Parish President Kenny Matassa.  Initially downplaying the conflict, Verdigets recused his court from Matassa’s felony bribery proceedings in December of 2017, delaying the trial scheduled for February 2018 until last July.  Matassa’s participation on the committee appears to have been minimal, at most.

In a January 31 email to schedule a “Courthouse update meeting” Clerk of Court Bridget Hanna did not even think to include the parish president.