Hancock Co. courthouse acoustics may be fixed

BAY ST. LOUIS, MS (WLOX) - The echoes at the Hancock County Courthouse may finally be gone.

Serious acoustical problems cropped up after the historic building was renovated after Hurricane Katrina. The echoes were so bad, you may remember, a judge declared a mistrial after jurors complained they couldn't understand the testimony.

"It sounds much better. It's understandable," said Hancock County Circuit Clerk Karen Ruhr as she sat in the back of the courtroom Monday, listening to workers conducting a sound check.

But the acoustical upgrades to the 100-year-old courtroom weren't easy. Work crews spent the past month and a half installing carpet over portions of the hardwood floor and adding sound muffling panels to the walls and ceiling. The acoustical material installed on the walls and ceiling is an inch and a half thick sheet of fiber glass covered with a hard, sound absorbing surface.

"We had calculated how many square feet we needed, and we were able to apply this material to the ceiling and to the walls in the amount of square footage needed to give the proper amount of sound improvement in the room," said Project Manager Jim Brumfield.

The goal was to improve the sound quality without compromising the historic integrity of the room.

"You can't tell that they've put things on the walls to make the sound better. You'd have to look really hard to know that they've added something to it," said Ruhr.

Brumfield agreed, "It certainly doesn't take away from any of the historical accuracy, and that was one of the things that Archives and History was very insistent on."

Assistance District Attorney Crosby Parker said he already hears a big difference.

"As somebody who uses this courtroom on a very regular basis, I'm very excited about the improvements they've made. You can already hear better right now," Parker said. "So I'm excited to get back in here and use it."

Sound absorbing cushions have been ordered for the pews. Once they're added, experts will conduct a final sound check.

The $180,000 price tag for the sound improvements were picked up by a Community Development Block Grant, as well as funds made available by the State Department of Archives and History.

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