After nearly nine months of construction, the Pearl River County courthouse was officially reopened last week.
The renovations, which took nearly five years of planning, were focused around updating the interior to meet the Americans with Disabilities Act regulations all while keeping true to the historic integrity of the 96 year old building.
During a guided tour, county administrator Adrain Lumpkin told WRJW News that working with the Department of Archives and History while making sure the courthouse met ADA regulations was a difficult undertaking to navigate.
“The Department of Archives and History at the state level says we want all this, this, and this preserved here, like the wood molding and the chairs,” Lumpkin explained. “But ADA would come in and say no there’s no way that is compliant.”
Staying true to the historical look of the courthouse, while bringing in up to date technology as well as making basic repairs, was the main goal throughout the extensive renovations, Lumpkin said.
According to Board President Sandy Kane Smith, the Pearl River County Board of Supervisors set a total budget of $1.2 million for the renovations in 2014, half of which came from a 50/50 Community Development Block Grant from the Mississippi Development Authority. According to Smith and Lumpkin the renovations stayed with in the estimated project allowance.
To be compliant with ADA, many accommodations were necessary to the courtroom specifically those that would allow wheelchair bound citizens to easily navigate their way around the courthouse; such as widening doorways, adding a lift, and removing eight inches of cement to level the floor and make it accessible to all.
Pearl River County Circuit Court Judge Prentiss Harrell opened court last week in the renovated courtroom, and spoke about the new conveniences and the heritage of the building, and as he did so, a man pushed a wheelchair-bound woman into the courtroom.
“I don’t want to embarrass anybody at all, but do you see that lady coming in in a wheelchair just now, that wouldn’t have happened a couple months ago,” Harrell said. “We’ve had to carry them in here before and that's been very difficult at times. What this means is that justice is for all and there's the example that just walked in the door. That’s a significant thing.”
Along with the restored ceiling and beautiful wainscoting, new technology can also be seen throughout the courtroom including earbuds for hearing impaired and large screens on the walls and in the jury box for evidence to be displayed clearly.
However, according to Lumpkin the renovations done to the courtroom should not outshine the renovations done to the courthouse as a whole. Strides were made on every floor to bring the nearly 100 year old courthouse into compliance such as:
Installing a new wheelchair accessible ramp to allow easy access into the building.
Constructing additional ADA parking.
Renovating the existing restrooms on all floors to provide more space for the wheelchairs and installing handrails.
Installing a sound system compatible with headphones for the hearing and visually impaired.
Constructing wheelchair accessible seating in the courtroom.
Updating the doors to open and close with little resistance while keeping the original doorknobs for historical purposes.
During the official dedication service of the courthouse last week, Harrell thanked the Board for their hard work, wisdom, and financial prudence to complete the project.
“I apologize to the people of this county that it took us so long. We started this process for this grant years ago and you have to qualify to get it. It's a 50/50 match for a little over a million dollars to do the repairs in this room and other areas of the courthouse,” Board President Smith said at the closing of the dedication service.
“Government is slow, we hear it all the time, and we apologize for that, but today is a good day for this county. I'd like to thank you for your patience with us and we are going to keep striving to make this a better place for the citizens of this county.”