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20140425 Courthouse featureIf the county doesn’t act quickly, the cost of a new courthouse could escalate, architects told the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court when discussing the schematics approved Tuesday.

Eli Ochoa, of ERO Architects, estimated the project construction cost for the courthouse at $127,705,007. In addition there are project soft costs (such as furniture and security equipment not included in construction costs) that would add an additional $29,372,152 to the cost of the building for a total of $157,077,159.

But Ochoa told the court the county must “speed to market” to keep costs down before anticipated inflation from rising fuel and materials costs. Ochoa estimated that at four percent inflation, the cost of the building could rise to $176,690,250 by 2017 when it is completed. Based on a six percent inflation cost, the building would cost an estimated $187,081,210.

The county did not discuss ways to fund the new building.

Ochoa told the court the work on the courthouse was 10 percent complete. The next phase would be the design development, which is the phase that “puts the meat on the bones.”

It is expected to take about nine months, followed by another nine months to draw up construction documents. Bidding and negotiations were figured at two months. The final phase would be construction, estimated to last 36 months.

The schematic design includes site plan, floor plans elevations, illustrative models or renderings, and a list of equipment required by the county. It includes calculations on areas and volumes, an efficiency plan and probable cost of construction. It also listed structural, mechanical and electrical requirements for the proposed courthouse. When complete, the courthouse will have 403,804 square feet of space, including two top floors that will remain shells for future courtrooms as needed.

During open forum Virginia Townsend, OWL, (Objective Watchers of the Legal System) again noted her disappointment that the building did not reflect a South Texas heritage design and felt there were too many windows that would drive the cost of electricity up.

Townsend also mentioned the state of the world today with possible new wars looming in the Middle East that could greatly affect fuel costs, and other factors that could affect the economy.

Following the presentation, County Judge Ramon Garcia asked Ochoa about the windows and design matters Townsend had raised.

Ochoa said the design was a utilitarian design based on space needs and followed the designs of many of the newer courthouses around the state. He said most windows faced the north to help with the summer heat costs. If requested, the number of windows could be reduced.

Commissioner Joel Palacios questioned whether having a vertical courthouse was the best idea. He asked what costs would be if the courthouse were spread over a wider area.

Ochoa said that safety concerns were the main reason for the vertical design. The county needs to keep prisoners completely separated from non-prisoners in the courthouse. In a vertical design, prisoners can easily be moved from floor to floor on their own elevators. If there had to be corridors on a horizontal level to move prisoners, the cost of the courthouse would increase enormously.

Also during open forum, OWL Fern McClaugherty asked how residents of the poorest county in the state could continue to live in a county that refused to cut spending and wanted to build a courthouse, beyond the means of most taxpayers. Already 30 percent of the poorest residents cannot pay their taxes on time, she said. McClaugherty said commissioners did not care about the impact on the people of the county and suggested that instead of a new courthouse, the county should be looking at the impact of the new immigration law on the county.

Later in the meeting, Bobby Villarreal, director of the Hidalgo County Economic Development, said the cost of caring for the many immigrants coming into Hidalgo County is a federal responsibility and was not costing the county anything at this point. Currently, people are being housed in a warehouse on military highway before being moved to new destinations on buses.

“Conditions were heartbreaking, but the Border Patrol was doing the best it could under circumstances,” Villarreal said.

Under other considerations Tuesday, Alex Palacios told the court the work on the administration building was making steady progress. He brought a video that showed the floors had been leveled and the electrical, plumbing and mechanical work had been completed for the first two floors. Sheetrock work had begun on one side of the second floor.

Members of La Union del Pueblo Entero, or LUPE, spoke during open forum, protesting the county’s move to adopt a garbage plan that would require all residents living in rural Hidalgo County to pay for the same garbage service. The court was told that the $18 proposed fee was higher than some carriers already serving the area charged and would be a financial burden on the poorest members of the community.

When the item came up for discussion, Commissioner A.J. Cuellar Jr. asked that no action be taken on the request to give the court a chance to meet with members of LUPE and address their concerns.

The court approved a Stonegarden Supplemental Grant for Precinct No. 3 in the amount of $66,413.

Also, eight temporary full-time positions in the elections department were extended through the end of 2014. The positions are for elections clerks at a salary of $9,560 per year.

The Sheriff’s Office Stonegarden Supplemental Grant (2012) will be divided between Hidalgo, Mission, Pharr and the Texas Department of Public Safety. Hidalgo will receive $69,252.71, while Mission will receive $221,695.11 and Pharr will receive $279,967.66. The TDPS will receive $97,981.33 for a total of $668,896.92.

Under Urban County, an agreement with Irrigation District No. 6 was approved for improvements to the road and bridge between Abram Road to La Homa Road. According to Diana Serna, the county will be responsible for road and bridge maintenance and the irrigation district for the irrigation line.


Hidalgo County’s WIC Program lactation program was recognized as one of the top 25 in the United States, Canada, Mexico, India and Brazil by the 2014 Community Care Award from the International Board of Certified Lactation Consultant Examiners an the International Lactation Consultant Association.

The WIC Lactation Center budget was amended by $191,677, which included salaries for a Board Certified International Lactation Consultant, a Peer Counselor Manager, two Peer Consultant I positions, and a custodian.

Commissioners voted to reschedule the July 1 commissioners meeting to Monday, June 30.


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