City and county elected officials plan to consider ways to build a new courthouse that could include tapping municipal funds for the project or building a shared facility with space for city offices.
Odessa City Council members are scheduled to meet at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday with the Ector County Commissioners’ Court at the Ector County annex, where the officials have asked the public to weigh in. No votes are scheduled.
“We may explore it and decide it’s a bad idea — or a good idea,” Eckert said, describing the meeting as the first of what may be several planning sessions. “We don’t know until we seriously address this issue.”
Eckert, the county’s top administrator, said county officials have not determined a strategy for shoring up funds to replace the blighted building without the city’s help.
“It becomes more difficult,” Eckert said. “Because then you are putting costs back on the county, which is the least funded entity.”
But there are options. One is county officials seeking a bond election. Another is that they decide to take on debt to pay for the facility, like commissioners did last year when they approved issuing $25 million in debt to pay for expanding the county jail.
In late February, Eckert asked the city officials to consider funding the demolition of the existing courthouse once a new facility is built on land the city would donate. He also asked for help building parking.
In return, the city would get the site of the old courthouse, where plans have called for developing a park.
Nearly five years ago, voters overwhelmingly rejected a $95 million bond proposal for a new courthouse.
But Eckert said the city’s help in that plan could shave about $15 million off the original $95 million cost of building the new courthouse. It’s still unclear how much of that reflects money that would be gained through efficiencies such as land costs and how much would be money the city is asked to spend.
County and city officials will consider the area currently home to the Odessa American building at 222 E. Fourth St. as a possible site for the new courthouse, a plan that could require buying other real estate nearby.
The city bought the OA facility and nearby parking lot for about $1.6 million in 2016. Since then, city officials have discussed demolishing the property and using it to raw private development or trading it to the county.
“The courthouse, to say they have a problem is an understatement,” Mayor David Turner said. “And they are very limited on money.”
But Turner and City Council members say the city should also consider building a shared facility with the county.
“The economics – that’s something that will have to be looked at,” Turner said. “There is no doubt that we are maxed out as far as space at City Hall.”
Eckert did not seek reelection, and he will be succeeded by Republican nominee Debi Hays.
Hays advocated finding a private entity to build the courthouse in a leaseto- buy arrangement that she said would allow the county to avoid taking on debt and asking voters to approve a bond.
That’s another possibility city and county officials may discuss on Tuesday, although it’s one Eckert said he doesn’t support.
Eckert said he was open to the jointly owned facility.
City and county officials are also expected to discuss building a courthouse as part of a broader effort to redevelop the long-blighted downtown.
“It would be good for revitalization,” Eckert said. “That’s not the principle reason you build a courthouse though. The primary reason is that the constitution expects a quality place for cases to be tried, and we also have a duty to provide a quality workplace for employees.”
- What: Meeting between the Odessa City Council and the Ector County Commissioners’ Court to discuss a new courthouse.
- When: 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.
- Where: The Ector County administration building annex, Room 120, 1010 E. Eighth St.