Funding strangleholds security plans

Dep. Melvin Holmes mans the metal detector on the second floor of the Courthouse outside the courtroom. Additional security is needed for the first floor. Photo by Hannah Richardson

By Carolyn Roy

The Parish Council has endorsed a comprehensive plan for Courthouse security but the holdup is the same as with many other projects—-lack of funding. And while the Council endorsed the concept at its September meeting, the members were adamant it was just that, an endorsement, not funding.

Their resolution of support allows Parish President Rick Nowlin to seek the total funding. Nowlin said at the meeting that he had met with several groups in the Courthouse to develop a guide for security improvements when funding becomes available. The Parish Council is always seeking funding from any viable source, but have not secured any at this time, other than the State capital outlay funds.

The State funds were secured with the assistance of Sen. Gerald Long and other representatives in Baton Rouge.  “The State Bond Commission (SBC) approved $480,000 in capital outlay funds and a Cooperative Endeavor Agreement was executed with the State in 2016,” Nowlin said. “In August of this year, we were informed that the State was now requiring all capital outlay project funds to be tied to bond sales by the State Bond Commission.

The project was not on the list approved at the Sept. 12 meeting of the SBC.

We are attempting to get the project approved at a future meeting of the SBC.” According to Nowlin, the State requires a local government match equal to one-third of the State money.  The minimum match would be $160,000.  Because of the scope of the project, he anticipates the Parish having to contribute approximately $320,000 to the project, resulting in a total cost of $800,000.

The match will come from the Parish buildings fund. One of the largest expenses will be for personnel to man the security installations. As for other offices in the Courthouse sharing the costs, Nowlin said, “We would love to have other agencies of government share in this capital cost with the Parish, but we do not anticipate any assistance at this time.  We should say that other agencies in the courthouse frequently assist in remodeling costs and in other areas.” Nowlin was reluctant to go into too much detail about security threats as that information may be beneficial to those wanting to create problems.

In general, the focus of the project is to improve security by controlling access by the public without restricting it, increasing security around detainees brought into the courthouse for court hearings and improvements in threat identification and response.    Nowlin said at the Parish Council meeting, the emphasis will be on securing first floor of the Courthouse. One of the bigger security issues is that handicap access is through unsecured basement doors on the north (St. Denis) side of the building.    Architect George Minturn is preparing the plan for a handicap ramp in the front of the courthouse. The proposed ramp would be constructed on the west side of the stairs at the main entrance on Church Street.  The placement of a ramp on the south (Church Street) side would allow secure basement doors.

“Of course, we will work closely with the Natchitoches Historic District Commission to ensure the design and construction complies with its regulations,” Nowlin said.

Other general proposals include security personnel at the main entrance, metal detectors on the first floor, X-ray screening station, identification badges for Courthouse employees and single location for mail delivery. Also on the list are replacement of the elevator system that is prone to outages; a secure access point for detainees brought to the court; an additional elevator and more restrooms. The plan also calls for an emergency response plan during a man-made or natural disaster and an electronic notification system. “We are extremely fortunate to have had only one major incident recently.

Given the political climate in the country and the high emotions surrounding child custody cases, there could be security problems,” Nowlin said.