Architects to unveil courthouse design concepts

The idea of building a new courthouse has reentered public discourse but whether or not Ector County officials will move forward with proposed options is dependent on the pulse of the community.
County Commissioners will soon receive conceptual facility drawings from architects to aid in their decision of selecting a site for a new county courthouse.
In July of 2018 commissioners approved a contract for about $40,000 with the architecture firm HOK located in Houston to conduct a study and analyze possible locations.
Commissioners’ Court meeting minutes stated the company would build upon the previous facility evaluation, needs assessment and master plan to develop an actual conceptual solution and overall cost estimate for the project.
The path that lies ahead of commissioners has two options: keeping the facility in downtown Odessa and utilizing properties adjacent or in close proximity to the existing courthouse or moving operations to county-owned land near the Ector County Law Enforcement Center.
Ector County Judge Debi Hays said both options have their own benefits that need to be explored.
Commissioners will receive a presentation at 6 p.m. Thursday at Odessa College from HOK regarding the viable options for relocating the courthouse and the meeting is open to the public.
The information provided by architects will communicate the pros and cons of both proposed locations as well as availability for future expansion and parking.
“I want everyone to know what options are out there for us as we grow forward as a city and as a county and as a community,” Hays said.
She said one of the most obvious differences between the two sites is the price point.
The site near the jail would cost about $78 million, which is about $12 million less than the estimated cost to build it downtown.
Hays said the assistance district sales tax that goes into effect April 1 cannot be used for either of the proposed courthouse sites because that money can only be used outside the city limits.
“The downtown location and the jail site location are inside the city limits,” Hays said. “We’ll either put it out for a bond election … or it could be the commissioners push to incur debt. I don’t know, we haven’t got that far.”
A $95 million courthouse bond previously failed in November 2013. Then, last year, commissioners in a 3-2 vote rejected Former Ector County Judge Ron Eckert’s proposal to pursue taking on $85 million of debt for a new courthouse.
Many county residents, following a Tuesday town hall in south Ector County, expressed that they were unaware of the courthouse being beyond repair and encouraged the idea of another renovation instead of a rebuild.
Ector County Building Maintenance Director Charlie Pierce said the courthouse in its present location was originally erected in the 1930s and was added onto in the 60s and twice in the 80s.
“We take great pride in trying to keep county buildings up and running for y’all,” Pierce said. “We try to make them last a lot more years for the county. We patch as we go.”
He said the current structure is at the end of its lifespan and remodeling would cost close to the same as starting from scratch elsewhere. When asked if more maintenance patches could keep the courthouse intact he said that the building was unsalvageable and must be replaced.
Opinions from residents on where the future courthouse should be built fall on a spectrum but some worry that moving the building away from downtown would harm revitalization efforts.
City resident and ECISD Board President Doyle Woodall said he is partial to keeping the courthouse in the downtown area.
“We need to take into consideration the actual taxpayer dollars that have already been spent downtown,” Woodall said. “I mean moving it south of town is not an option as far as I’m concerned.”
Woodall said the city’s push to spur economic development downtown would be hindered if the courthouse was pulled away from the area.
“A lot of the traffic downtown is traffic headed to the courthouse and some of those businesses that are around there I think would be greatly impacted by the lack of traffic flow that they’re currently getting,” he said.
John Herriage, owner of Copper Key Realty located on Grant Avenue, lives near downtown and previously received a pair of downtown incentive grants for Copper Key Realty totaling $70,520 from the City of Odessa in 2017.
Herriage said in a Facebook message that he still needs more information on the topic, but would also prefer to not see the courthouse relocated near the jail.
Hays said she does not believe having a courthouse located in downtown adds to or takes away from revitalization efforts.
She said if the new courthouse remained downtown the City could lose out on not only an opportunity to develop about three blocks of property with retailers or housing to increase population density, but also the chance to collect additional tax revenue.
“There are counties that realized that they needed to utilize their downtown properties and they’re growing their downtown for destination places and for entertainment and for restaurants,” Hays said. “I’m leaning in the area that best helps the county community as a whole and the best bang for your buck with a cost savings to the consumer.”
The county judge cited a list of about 10 counties that included Hays County, Kauffman County and Bell County as examples of areas where a courthouse has been moved away from the downtown area to drive commercial growth or create a “county campus.”
Moving the courthouse to south Odessa would utilize property the county owns to set a dedicated area where county business would center and provide more expansion options if the Odessa population were to continue to climb.
“At this point in the game, I’m not really sure that a new courthouse is what really should be on our radar to begin with,” Hays said. “We might have to just not do anything with the courthouse and address the juvie center and stay right where we’re at.”
The 45-year-old youth center is reportedly struggling to accommodate the county’s increased juvenile population and is having to release some juveniles back to the community to accommodate new arrivals.
“There’s a lot to consider,” Hays said. “Whatever the people want is what I’m going to do.”