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County committee discuss options for courthouse

20110916_HidalgoCountySealEDINBURG — As a committee of residents continues their ongoing discussions on improving the Hidalgo County Courthouse, it still remains unclear if the county wishes to relocate to another city.

“All I’ve heard is what Edinburg is willing to do,” said Edcouch Mayor Pro-Tem Eddy Gonzalez at a committee meeting Monday. “I’m sure there are other communities out there interested.”

With Edinburg helping pay a portion of the revitalization project, as the city invests millions of dollars in the downtown area, the general sentiment is the county is interested in keeping the courthouse in Edinburg, said ERO Architects CEO Eli Ochoa. Likewise, the county has plenty of land in the area to develop north over the years, he added.

“We’re going to come up with a lot of options,” Ochoa said.

Those options will include discussions on constructing a new courthouse or working on the existing building.

The county will have to get clearance from the Texas Historical Commission before making any major adjustments to the building constructed in 1954 using Weslaco architect R. Newell Waters’ international style-influenced design.

Laurie Limbacher, an Austin architect, is currently researching the need and history of the site and should make a recommendation about restoring or developing a new construction in the coming months.

With a 30 percent growth in the county’s population, the workload at the courthouse has also increased. Currently, the courthouse and annex building built in 1968, offers staff and the community about 100,000 square feet of space.

In meeting with different departments, they identified a need for approximately 245,000 square feet, Ochoa said.

“There’s a lot of things missing for these things to function properly,” he said of county operations. “Every department we met with were very frugal – they were concerned that they weren’t asking for the moon.”

County officials said they wanted to address the current growth and the expected growth in the future, as well.

One of the discussed design aspects calls for a “courthouse campus” that connects buildings together.

“We want to build something that will withstand several decades,” Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia said.

It’s estimated that bringing the building up to code could cost up to approximately $10 million.

The group will meet again Dec. 12 and again in January before bringing suggestions to county commissioners in February.

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