Federal courthouse now set to open in June

Published 3:42 pm Friday, April 27, 2007

NATCHEZ — Natchez’s new federal courthouse has had another couple months tacked on to its estimated opening.

Federal government officials most recently estimated the courthouse would be ready for court in mid-April.

Now, it looks more like June, they said.

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“It’s approximately 90 percent complete,” General Services Administration spokesman Gary Mote said. “There is still ongoing work, including insulation and final finishes, millwork, instillation of some fixtures and exterior paving.”

Mote said he did not have a schedule and could not say when the work would be finished.

“I expect it will be later than mid-April,” he said.

Although the physical construction would probably be completed in May, the installation of audio and video equipment would probably not be finished until June, U.S. District Court Clerk J.T. Noblin said. But it’s that new technology, in part, that makes the courthouse valuable, he said.

“Courts have moved to (electronic) evidence display rather than manual distribution of documents,” Noblin said. “It provides an increased depth of understanding of what is contained in documents or other graphic evidence.

“And by the court providing the technology, it levels the playing field, so neither side (defense or prosecution) has an advantage.”

For years, court for the division has been held in Vicksburg. With the completion of the Natchez courthouse, all trials will be moved south.

“The Natchez location is in an area that is probably more convenient,” Noblin said. “Vicksburg is only 44 miles form Jackson and at the northern tip of the district. Natchez is more centralized.”

The 1800s building being transformed into a courthouse has had many lives, including as a skating rink, opera hall, public library, museum and a dance hall.

Local and federal entities have combined efforts to make the project a reality.

“This is a unique project that has combined local, judicial and GSA effort sot restore the building,” Noblin said.

The building may be historic, but the safety features aren’t. They incorporate very modern means of keeping jury members, audience members and trial players safe, he said.

“I think that’s what makes it an interesting and unique presentation,” Noblin said. “I think the architects have done a great job providing modern arena in a historic site.”