Study group presents plan for judicial center
Polk County Enterprise, October 2007
BY VALERIE REDDELL
LIVINGSTON — The Facility Study Group appointed by Polk County commissioners delivered its report Tuesday after a two-year effort to develop its recommendation for a Judicial Center adjacent to the courthouse.
Co-Chairman Jack Jackson told commissioners that the group had finally reached a project recommendation that the taxpayers are going to like.
“It’s been up and down but we have come to a conclusion,” Jackson said.
Representatives from Hesters and Sanders Architecture of Lufkin presented schematic designs of basic space allocations for district courts, justices of the peace, county court at law, holding areas for inmates, district attorney, county clerk and district clear.
The judicial center will be a two-story structure totaling 38,157 square feet, architect Jean Hester said.
The architects arrived at their space allocations by beginning with proposals from efforts in 2000 and 2003.
“We took that information and interviewed the departments about their space needs,” Jean Hester said.
The designers also worked to make all areas be used efficiently and reduced the space needed from about 41,000 square feet.
Security was a huge issue in designing the judicial center, the architects said.
Members of the public entering through the front entrance will be visible to staff in the security center.
Inmates will enter the building through a sallyport entrance on the southwest corner of the center, commonly known as the Ford building. The proposal also calls for a separate elevator and restroom facilities to separate inmates from other members of the public with business at the courthouse.
The first floor includes a 150-seat courtroom primary for district court proceedings, a 75-seat county court at law courtroom and a 36-seat courtroom for the justice of the peace.
The Ford Building will remain a single-story structure, according to the proposal.
From the exterior, the building will have three separate facades that will maintain the look of the Ford and Greer buildings as well as the new center construction.
Once inside, the center will seem to be a single building connected by a central corridor.
Restrooms and elevators will be centrally located where they can be monitored from the security center.
In response to a question from H.E. Striedel, Jean Hester said the center will have a “plethora” of restrooms located on both floors.
“How many is in a plethora?” Striedel asked.
“There will be at least six stalls in the women’s restrooms on each floor,” Hester said.
Some departments will have additional private restroom facilities in their departments, she added.
Anticipating the demand for restrooms has been one of the more difficult issues, she added, since events like a district court trial can draw a large number of spectators.
Hester also noted that the exterior facade is designed to maintain the pedestrian feel of downtown Livingston. The windows on the facade where courtrooms are located will not actually offer any view into the building for security reasons, she said.
Second floor offices will have windows and make use of natural light, Hester said.
In initial phases of the judicial center project, Hester also suggested retaining the Pedigo Furniture building and be used to store documents and voting equipment.
Architect Roger Sanders added that another challenge presented in designing the building is the changing elevation across the front of the three buildings.
Designers will use ramps and brownstone-style stairs to allow visitors to move across the center.
Commissioners also heard a budget estimate from J.E. Kingham Construction.
Jim Kingham distributed a two-page cost estimate to commissioners, emphasizing that it is not a bid, but rather estimates to assist them in the planning process.
The estimate, including professional fees, came to $8,821,998 for a 41,000 square-foot judicial center.
Jean Hester noted that the reduction in the overall square-footage will merely offset the increase in supply costs that are currently occurring on a monthly basis.
After the presentation from the two consulting firms, Jack Jackson recommended the court give serious consideration to the proposal and recommended using the swiftest and most economical method possible to obtain financing for the project.
Safety issues continue to drive efforts to move court proceeding out of the existing courthouse.
The multiple entrances to the courthouse and close quarters on the second floor where court proceedings are held have caused several incidents over the years.
In July 2005, Robert Lee Briggs escaped from the courthouse after receiving a 20-year sentence for delivery of a controlled substance. Briggs was recaptured Aug. 9, 2005 in Diboll.
As paperwork was being completed, Briggs told the officer accompanying him that he needed to use the restroom. The officer went with accompanied Briggs to the restroom and released one wrist from the handcuffs.
When the officer attempted to replace the handcuff, Briggs resisted and left the building, according to reports of the incident.
A second courthouse escape occurred in April 2006 when Justin Dean Lynn overpowered the person accompanying him when he was ordered to appear before 258th District Judge Elizabeth E. Coker. Lynn ran from the courthouse and was apprehended a short time later by Livingston Police Officer Leon Middleton.