City and county officials formed a committee Tuesday to examine costs of building a new downtown courthouse and to find ways the two governmental bodies can share the burden of replacing the blighted government building on Grant Avenue.
The committee, including two Odessa City Council members and two Ector County commissioners, will look at buying real estate surrounding the Odessa American building at 222 E. Fourth St., which the city bought along with a nearby parking lot for about $1.6 million in 2016. The officials would also research costs of demolishing the properties.
The committee is also expected to consider possibilities for a new building including a shared facility with space for city offices. Eckert said he hoped that in the coming weeks or months, the committee will report findings publicly and city and county officials could decide on a plan “to try to take care of what I consider an emergency” because the existing building is failing.
“This is our first preferred option, is the downtown option,” Eckert said. “But there are other options if this doesn’t work out.”
Since buying the newspaper building, city officials have considered it as a site for a courthouse. Ector County Judge Ron Eckert asked city officials in late February to consider sharing the costs of the project. That could mean funding demolition of properties including the OA and the existing courthouse, and donating land for the new building. He also asked for help building parking.
In return, Eckert said the city would advance its goal of redeveloping downtown and get the site of the old courthouse, which could be transformed into a public park.
Otherwise, he said the county may consider building a new courthouse elsewhere such as near the jail.
Committee members are Precinct 1 Commissioner Eddy Shelton, Precinct 3 Commissioner Dale Childers, District 1 Councilman Malcolm Hamilton and District 2 Councilman Dewey Bryant, who will head the fact finding group. Other officials may join them, including 358th District Court Judge Stacy Trotter, who Eckert said could offer a sense of the technical needs in a new courthouse.
They were expected to begin meeting as soon as this week.
Nearly five years ago, voters overwhelmingly rejected a $95 million bond proposal for a new courthouse. And Eckert said he would be reluctant to bring another bond to voters for fear of delaying construction of a new courthouse for years should the measure fail.
Eckert said the city’s help could cut $15 million off the original $95 million cost of building the new courthouse. But it’s unclear how much of that reflects money the city would be asked to spend.
“The county is not in the same financial situation as other entities, so we are needing some resource help,” Eckert said.