Although no firm plans have been made, the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors has hired an architect to assist Yates Construction with the forthcoming courthouse project — whatever that may be.
LPK Architects, PA of Meridian was selected out of the five firms that expressed an interest in the project.
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Lauderdale County Administrator Chris Lafferty said the firm will be paid based on a state-approved percentage rate for the project, which is undetermined due to the range of options.
“In some shape, form or fashion, there will need to be something built that would require an architect,” Lafferty said. “Right now we’re exploring all our options. There are so many variables out there; we are steadily asking questions and narrowing down options.”
Lafferty said options include remodeling the existing courthouse and adding extra space or relocating courthouse operations to another location, such as the old federal courthouse building, currently the post office.
On Monday, Lafferty said he had been in contact with representatives from the U.S. Postal Service concerning the old federal courthouse. The county has also been in contact with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History to explore grant funding options.
Bob Luke of LPK Architects said he was looking forward to getting started on the project, although it is “a long way from being resolved.”
“We’ve been hired to work with Yates Construction to look at their needs and all the options… working with them to work on the most logical economic plan for a long-term solution,” Luke said.
The board last week voted 2-1 to hire Luke — with two abstentions. District 1 Supervisor Jonathan Wells and Board President Josh Todd (District 3) voted yes, while District 5 Supervisor Kyle Rutledge voted no. Supervisors Wayman Newell (District 2) and Joe Norwood (District 4) did not vote.
County Attorney Lee Thaggard said the motion passed because the county practices Robert’s Rules of Order.
“Under Robert’s, a majority vote means a majority of those members voting,” Haggard said. “Three members voted and two abstained, so it passed because a majority voted yes.”
The other firms who submitted requests were Barlow-Eddy-Jenkins, PA from Jackson; JH&H Architects, PA from Flowood; Belinda Stewart Architects, PA from Eupora; and Starkville-based Shafer Zahner Zahner, PLLC.
The aging courthouse continues to be a point of contention for citizens and public officials, as monthly grand jury reports state it is no longer fit for use.
According to a 66-page study submitted last year by Belinda Stewart Architects, the cost of solutions ranged from $30.9 million to $46.75 million depending on whether the existing building is renovated or relocated.
Lafferty said in a previous report that it would take several months for the board to choose an architect.
Wells, who made the motion to hire Luke at the meeting, said it was time to move forward.
“Frankly, I don’t feel like it’s a rush,” Wells said. “We’ve been trying to get this done for weeks, even months. We should have hired LPK the day we hired Yates.
“We’ve got momentum, and we’ve been working on this — we want to get this thing going.”
Rutledge, the dissenter, said there hadn’t been enough discussion before the vote.
“I think Mr. Bob Luke will do a good job and is fully qualified, but he wasn’t my first vote,” Rutledge said. “…I just went ahead and voted no — I wasn’t prepared to choose him at that moment.”
At the moment, Rutledge is leaning toward relocating the courthouse.
“It still scares me on remodeling the courthouse,” Rutledge said. “I think it needs to be done eventually, but that needs to be done toward the end. I have thought about possibility utilizing the annex [building], the federal courthouse or building a new building.”
Newell said he felt all the architects were qualified.
“I got an architect that lives in my district,’ Newell said. “I’m not going to say one’s better than the other — all of them are qualified, and Mr. Luke had the three votes. I think he’ll do a good job.”
Although no definite plans are set, Todd told WTOK last week that the plan is to move forward with adding “an additional 100,000 [square feet] of office space and court rooms.”
Newell agrees that renovating and remodeling the existing building is the best option.
“It is the way to go in my opinion,” Newell said. “We only have 30,000 square feet, and you need 130,000 square feet.”
Wells is undecided.
Wells said relocating to the federal courthouse temporarily if not permanently is a good idea, but the advice of Yates and Luke will be a strong deciding factor.
“Personally, I think that’s something where we could go in there and stay,” Wells said. “Again, it’s going to come down to working out the details with the U.S. Post Office.”