Facility group: Security issues driving judicial center project
Polk County Enterprise, March 2007
LIVINGSTON – The Polk County Facilities Committee seated two new members last week and continued discussions on plans for a Judicial Center on the block south of the Polk County Courthouse that would alleviate overcrowding at the 84-year-old courthouse and remove some known security threats.
Co-chairman Jack Jackson summarized committee activities undertaken so far for Eddie Martin and Debbie Cooper who fill seats vacated by Debbie Clack and Debra Nelson.
“The real push is the security issue,” committee member Dick Grant said. “We have a tragedy waiting to happen.”
During court sessions, the two district courts and county court handle a parade of county jail and prison inmates and civil dockets that include couples in the midst of divorces and abuse victims seeking protective orders.
Putting all those people who are undergoing serious emotional stress has sparked problems in the past.
District Attorney Lee Hon said his victim coordinator was injured in an attack by a man who she was preparing a protective order against. The man also grabbed a child during the disturbance, Hon said.
The multiple entry points, lack of metal detectors and general crowding make it difficult for deputies charged with building security to ensure courthouse visitors remain safe, county officials said.
Putting high-risk individuals in such close proximity to the general public gives inmates potential access to weapons or contraband and puts transport officers at risk, Hon said.
Committee member Kelly Ritch said there have been two inmates escape from the courthouse in the last six months.
During the first phase of its work, the committee reviewed five pieces of property for potential judicial center sites. The group recommended purchasing the block that was the longtime site of Pedigo Furniture, Jackson said.
Commissioners then charged the committee with coming up with a plan, architect and builder and construction manager for the project.
Once the committee makes that recommendation the final decision on hiring on executing those professional services contracts will be up to commissioners, Jackson said.
The committee plans to complete its work in time to place any needed items on the November general election ballot.
Three different architects have presented suggested designs that would meet county needs and fit on the site.
Jackson explained that a Lufkin firm suggested a $9 million plan and presented drawings of the building elevation and parking area for the two salvageable buildings on the corners.
“There is enough sound structure there that something could be done with those,” Jackson said.
Renovating the existing corner buildings saves the county $900,000 according to Jackson. County crews and equipment will demolish the center portion.
Another Dallas firm shared ideas for a four-phase plan that would cost $21 million, he added.
The committee also heard from a builder, a program manager, a construction manager and consultant specializing in pre-construction planning.
Although some preliminary design suggestions have been made, Jackson reminded the committee that nothing has been set in stone.
“I don’t know if the decision on who’s going to move across to the new complex has been made,” Jackson said.
At the next meeting, the committee will determine whether an architect or a preconstruction planner will determine the space needs of each department and make decisions on how space will be used, Co-chairman Jake Sherman said.
Cost estimates for the space needs study are expected to be $4,000 to $4,500.
Grant told fellow committee members that there’s more to preplanning than determining specs.
Skyrocketing costs of building materials may make multi-phase construction impractical, Jackson said.
Normally building materials go up 2 to 3 percent a year, Jackson said. With the demand for supplies caused by Hurricane Katrina and the building boom in China, costs are going up 1 percent a month.
“It may be cheaper on the taxpayers to do as much as we can now, instead of later,” Jackson said.
Voters have turned down two previous bond elections but committee members hope to draft a plan that will keep the project costs at or below $10 million.
One important factor will be factoring in anticipated growth, committee members agreed.
Committee member Kelly Ritch expects the county population to reach 54,000 by 2011. Current population estimates are 46,000 to 47,000.
Ritch also serves as the director of operations for the Polk County Economic and Industrial Development Corporation.
Polk County grew by 34 percent between 1990 and 2000 and remains one of the fastest growing counties in Texas.
The next facility study group meeting will be held at 1:30 p.m. Monday, March 26.
Ruth Bass Hollenbeck