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Commissioners Court views design for new courthouse

20140418 Courthouse-RenderingHidalgo County and City of Edinburg leaders viewed plans Tuesday for the new county courthouse at a joint workshop.

They were told in 1908 the county had a building of 6,000 square feet to serve a population of 12,350. In 1954, a new courthouse was built with 56,000 square feet to serve a population of 168,629. An annex building was constructed in 1968. In 1978, three additional stories were added to the north wing. In 2008 a sally port was added for better control of prisoners.

By 2010, it had been expanded to 294,833 to serve a population of 774,765. Now, a new 471,000 square-foot courthouse is being designed to meet the needs of the county for the next 25 years.

According to presenters, the designs are 95 percent compete. It took two years to plan and would take three to four years to construct. There was no final cost mentioned during the workshop. That figure will not be ready until all of the designs are completed, compensating for the anticipated cost of inflation for building materials. Those present said it would cost substantially more than the estimated $75 million discussed at the beginning of the project.

According to Eli Ochoa of ERO Architects, the new facility would house 24 different courts, including associate courts, auxiliary courts, county courts, district courts, and a probate court. There also would be ancillary spaces, adult probation, the bar association, the district attorney’s office, the sheriff’s department, the county clerk, the district clerk, a facilities department, indigent defense, the public defender’s office and a lobby, plus other areas for a total of 149,139 square feet.

The ground floor would have public access with the district clerk’s office, areas providing for sheriff’s movement of prisoners without intermingling them with the public, a sheriff’s security area, a secure parking lot for judges, eight elevators for public and secured uses and an escalator system for moving large numbers of people between the first and sixth floors.

The second floor also would have a public space along with the county clerk’s office, the indigent defense office, a law library, a space for the bar association and an area for the public defender’s office.

Plans for the third through eighth floors included courtrooms and judges’ suites.

The ninth floor was dedicated to structural needs. The tenth floor is for holding in-custody defendants along with more courtrooms and a judge’s suite.

Landscaping reflected the Valley and took in the Rio Grande and irrigation systems, palm trees, citrus orchards and the old palm-lined roads that led into the Valley.

Parking on site is limited to a small handicapped area but makes use of city parking lots located within one-fourth mile of the courthouse, which architects said was a reasonable distance to expect people to walk.

Some commissioners disagreed, saying there is too much landscaping shown and there should be more parking onsite.

At one time during the planning stages, plans included renovation of the existing courthouse for use by the county and district clerk’s office. However, Ochoa told the group the cost of renovation could go as high as $30 million to bring the building into code and then provide the office space. For that cost, new spaces in the new courthouse facility could be built.

He also stated the Texas Historical Commission felt if the space was to be renovated, it should be taken back to the way it was in 1954 when it was constructed, which would mean a loss of many square feet of office space. It just makes more sense to plan to locate the offices under one roof so personnel would not be moving back and forth between buildings, he said. Perhaps at some later date an organization would want to renovate the old courthouse building for office space.

There also was some mention of a parking garage on site but at the current time the cost in addition to the courthouse would be prohibitive, Ochoa said.

Ochoa said the final estimated costs would be presented when the schematic design was completed.

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CoverageAreaThe Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.

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