Hancock County Courthouse Now Accessible To All

Work to make the Hancock County courthouse handicap accessible is almost finished. Bringing the historic building up to date has taken more than a year of work and $1.4 million.

No one is happier to see the upgrades than Bay St. Louis resident Huey Kenmar. Until now, Kenmar couldn't get to the second floor of his county courthouse. A new elevator has made it possible.

"I felt free... to be able to come in the Courthouse and be able to participate in a court proceeding or to watch a court proceeding." Kenmar said.

You might say Huey is the spirit behind the changes to improve accessibility at the courthouse. Four years ago he filed a complaint with the Justice Department after he was summoned for jury duty and could not get up the three flights of stairs on his own.

"The first time I was called, they actually carried me up the steps. The second time I got a summons to be on a jury, I didn't let that happen."

Now every courtroom and bathroom in the building is wheelchair accessible. Folks who work inside the building are elated about the new and improved courthouse.

"We now have a jury room, we now have bathrooms upstairs, we have witnesses rooms. Before when you were in a high profile case, witnesses on both sides would be mingling in the halls together because there was no place else to put them. Now I think we've come up to the 20th century," Hancock County Circuit Clerk Pam Metzler said.

Chancery Clerk Tim Kellar says the improvements are just the beginning.

"The next phase of our renovation will be in furnishing. Some of the offices of the courthouse will actually have counter tops and desks available for folks to approach in a wheelchair."

Huey Kenmar knows many people will benefit from the courthouse changes. And the next time he's called to jury duty, he'll be happy to serve.

Work will also take place to renovate the exterior of the courthouse. A $300,000 matching grant from the State Department of Archives & History will fund restoration work on the front entrance and repairs to the historic building's decorative columns. An open house and dedication ceremony will be held sometime in October.

by Al Showers