NEW ORLEANS (CN) – One hundred employees from the St. Bernard Parish Courthouse in Chalmette will be moved to a strip mall for up to a year while the courthouse gets a sorely needed renovation, including mold remediation. New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, which was virtually wiped out by Hurricane Katrina flooding, is part of St. Bernard Parish.
The first floor of the parish courthouse was flooded during the storm and many documents in the clerk’s office were submerged. After the 2005 hurricane, the courthouse was one of very few buildings in the parish left standing and operational.
The entire courthouse staff of file clerks, judges, assessor’s staff and district attorneys will vacate the art deco building for more modest, and less conventional, quarters in a series of six vacant buildings in the Village Square shopping center off the busy thoroughfare West Judge Perez Drive.
The impending setup is makeshift, but could be in place for as long as a year. Judge Robert Buckley’s chambers will be downstairs from a tattoo parlor. The main courtroom will be in a building next door, and Buckley and court workers will enter through a hole that contractors cut into a wall between the two buildings. A red brick building nearby will be divided in half and used for Judge Perry Nicosia’s chambers and for the assessor’s office, which normally has its own wing in the courthouse. Construction of the courthouse on St. Bernard Highway was completed in 1939. Clerk of Court Lena Torres, who has worked at the courthouse since 1940, said she is skeptical that all the files, including mortgage and title records dating back to the 1800s, marriages licenses and civil and criminal cases, will fit into the first floor of the strip mall’s makeshift courthouse.
But all files – in fact, everything – must be taken out of the courthouse for the renovation, which will include dealing scrubbing mold from the building.
The courthouse’s electrical and plumbing systems also will be overhauled. There has been no hot water in the courthouse since Katrina, and, according to the Times-Picayune, no professional remediation has been done since the flood, only a cursory cleaning, in which some employees wiped down the walls and floors.