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Mar 19, 2012 10:41 AM by AP

Baton Rouge City Hall 40 percent empty

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Three and a half floors and several other offices in the 12-story Baton Rouge City Hall are vacant since the 19th Judicial District courts moved to the new courthouse more than a year ago.

Jim Frey, an architect with the Department of Public Works, tells The Advocate 40 percent of the 200,000 square-foot building is empty.

"We can't just leave it empty," Frey said. "We recognize that fact. We need to utilize it."

At the same time, there are numerous city-parish offices scattered around the parish that could be consolidated inside City Hall, saving the city-parish money in leases and utility costs, public works officials said.

Frey said City Hall, which was built in 1977, has inefficient utilities and is expensive to maintain.

The old building does not have the technology to shut off certain sections of its heating and cooling systems to mitigate the cost of the vacancies, said David Guillory, assistant DPW director of maintenance.

"We have shut off most of the lights on the vacant floors, but we cannot control the amount of air other than by keeping the thermostats at a reasonable level," he said. "I'm sure there is some savings, but nothing substantial."

It's unclear what the energy costs for City Hall are because it is metered with other downtown city-parish owned buildings, said William Daniel, DPW director.

The plan has been to relocate city-parish offices into the newly available space in City Hall, but the problem is that the majority of the vacancies are old courtrooms and large judges' offices that should be transformed into traditional work spaces, but that takes money, Frey said.

"The courtrooms are the biggest problem," Frey said. "It sounds like, 'Well, why don't you hurry and move people there and fill it in?' But it's just not that simple because the space is so task specific."

Daniel said city-parish employees are now planning to take on some of the renovations in-house by putting up cubicle walls in the former courtrooms to create offices.

Frey said the relocations may be a gradual process, but the end result will be a savings to taxpayers.

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