Despite numerous grand jury reports stating hazardous conditions, despite pleas from courthouse workers over personal safety concerns, despite black mold, peeling paint and overloaded electrical outlets, despite appall from the governor on down, the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors are being true to their word.
They won’t be rushed to a solution for the decayed Lauderdale County Courthouse. There is no overnight solution to fixing the 1905 building. Apparently, there has been no solution in some 14,956 nights since overdue maintenance problems were first discussed in 1977.
While we at times have questioned the openness of the board’s discussions on how to cure this upward of $30 million headache, we took hope last summer when the board identified a contractor and architect to help them make decisions.
We took greater hope in December when the board set a target moving date of March 1, 2018 and voted to approve “the concept of relocating all occupants, official employees, departments, courts, commissions and offices” in the courthouse and the courthouse annex to the 82,000-square-foot J.C. Penney building at Bonita Lakes Mall for a period of two to three years.
Question the process, question the location, question other decisions, at least the scent of progress was in the air.
But March 1 has come and gone and instead the scent of courthouse decay and stagnation remain.
The estimated cost of relocating to the mall has made the supervisors skittish. Now we wait to see if relocating to the old federal courthouse, currently housing the post office, could be cheaper. That solution was among those raised in a 66-page report by architect Belinda Stewart in 2016.
In fact, in a Sept. 16, 2012 report in The Meridian Star, supervisors were quoted as inquiring into using space in the federal courthouse “as a way to solve some of its problems at both the Annex Building and the Lauderdale County Courthouse.”
Hint: if you haven’t received an answer on that inquiry in more than five years, it makes one wonder how fruitful the negotiations will be now.
But the Stewart study cost the county $75,000. The county has paid more for previous reports and, though the totals aren’t complete, we imagine the advice and work of W.G. Yates & Sons Construction and LPK Architects P.A. will not be free.
The supervisors are willing to dribble money out for studies, advice, some field trips and a pickup truck or two, but not for temporary quarters to protect its workers and visitors – or even some buckets of paint and some new carpeting for temporary cosmetic fixes.
Perhaps their charter dictates congeniality and discourages strong leadership that acknowledges a need to do the right thing and protect courthouse workers and visitors. A change of leadership every year probably doesn’t facilitate difficult decisions.
We have acknowledged that this particular board has inherited 41 years of neglect by previous boards. This group, however, owns the problem now.
As of Friday, the old federal building – known as an alternative in 2012 and 2017 – is now the supervisors' favored site. If that's their choice, fine, act on it.
Our primary call remains the same: move county workers out now, mostly for their safety, but also to protect the county taxpayers from liability.
Supervisors, lay out your plan, execute it and update the public at each step. This should be a topic of open discussion at every county meeting.