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Trinity Standard - Local News
Stories Added - September 2008
Copyright 2008 - Polk County Publishing Company

Courthouse renovation delayed by THC
Trinity Standard - September 2008

GROVETON – Although architects still hope to begin work on the courthouse this year, work probably will not begin in November as expected due to “a hiccup” generated by the Texas Historical Commission (THC).

During Monday’s meeting of the Trinity County commissioners, architect Michael Gaertner of Galveston indicated the delay would be at least 30 days.

The county had previously hoped to begin advertising for bidders and award a contract in October.

Gaertner said the problem arouse when a new program administrator for the project was named by THC. The new administrator, Bess Graham, has presented the Gaertner with a 17-page list of comments, questions and recommended changes.

THC is funding most of the $6.6 million project with a $5 million grant. The remaining $1.6 million was obtained by the county through the sale of certificates of obligation to be repaid over the next 15 years.

Gaertner said that while many of the changes sought by Graham had already been identified by architects and engineers, others had been worked out through negotiations with the previous THC project administrator.

“We’re going to have to go back and try and bring her up to date. Part of the problem was that when she took over this project, she did not have access to all of the files. A lot of the concerns that she expressed have already been addressed, but she did not know that,” he told commissioners.

One example of a concern cited in Graham’s letter that had been previously addressed deals with the limited egress to the third floor of the courthouse.

That floor currently is used only for storage and is accessed by a single, narrow staircase. An old exterior fire escape that was installed in the 1950s or 1960s is set to be removed.

The three-story structure was completed in 1914 and according to local research, the fire escape was not part of the original design.

However, Graham expressed concern over the limited access to the third floor and wanted Gaertner to confirm that the fire escape was not part of the 1914 design.

“Basically, I think she is concerned about the safety of those working on the third floor,” Gaertner told commissioners. “We have addressed that issue and there should be no danger.”

The architect said the renovation plan calls for an elevator to be installed linking the first, second and third floors and that the staircase would remain.

“We also will be installing a state-of-the-art smoke detection system and sprinkler system throughout the building, including the third floor,” he said.

Gaertner added sprinklers also would be located within the elevator shaft.

Because the courthouse is composed of concrete and steel, any fire that might occur would be slow to spread and Gaertner said the smoke detector system would allow anyone on the third floor plenty of time to exit the building.

Another question raised by Graham deals with the elevator itself. She asked if it shouldn’t also access the courthouse basement and Gaertner said that because she had not been able to access all of the files, she was not aware that the “basement” in question was more of a crawl space.

While there is a storage room in the basement area, the renovation plan calls for it to be used for the building’s electrical boxes and other service equipment.

He noted that THC’s grant seeks to preserve the old courthouse and restore it to as close to its original appearance as possible.

Gaertner told commissioners that in addition to restoring the building, they are seeking to make it a functional courthouse that will service the needs of Trinity County for another 100 years.

“Its not uncommon during the demolition process to uncover historical evidence, in fact, we are counting on it,” he said.

The architect said one of the goals of the project is e to restore the second-floor district courtroom to its original layout.

At present, the judge’s bench is located on the south side of the courtroom, facing north. It is believed that originally, the bench was on the east side of the room, facing west.

“When we remove the floor in the courtroom, we hope to uncover evidence showing exactly how the room was originally arranged,” he said. “We can then modify the plan, if needed, to restore the courtroom to that layout.”

Once the construction bid for the project is awards, the county plans to move out of the courthouse for up to two years. Most of the offices will be located in buildings located immediately south of the courthouse across Highway 287.

 

Other business

During their meeting, county commissioners also:

• Authorized Sheriff Bent Lee to purchase three new patrol vehicles for delivery in October. Lee said he currently has two vehicles “in the hospital” and needed the replacements. He told commissioners he plans to purchase pickups rather than cars. “The roads we have to travel are tearing up the cars because they are so low to the ground,” he said.

• Approved an agreement with the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston which will allow indigent patients from Trinity County to utilize that medical facility.

• Voted to change the early voting location for elections, moving it from the courthouse to the Groveton Volunteer Fire Department. County Clerk Diane McCrory requested the change due to the pending renovation planned at the courthouse

• Selected the salary grievance committee for 2008 from the list of grand jury members from the past year. Named to the committee were Rita Stanton of Apple Springs, Nancy McClung of Trinity, Wayne Huffman of Trinity, Leela Lawrence of Trinity, Kerri C. Johnson of Trinity, Norris Legg of Groveton, Ernest Edwin Egbert of Trinity, Larry Mitschke of Groveton and Eva Palmer of Trinity. Alternates include Joni Pursley of Trinity, Rita Gileson of Trinity and Karen Mark of Apple Springs.

• approved the holiday schedule for the coming fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1. Holidays to be taken by the county will include Veteran’s Day on Nov. 11; Thanksgiving on Nov. 27-28; Christmas on Dec. 24-26; New Year’s Day on Jan. 1, 2009; Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 19, 2009; President’s Day on Feb. 16, 2009; Texas Independence Day on March 2, 2009; Good Friday on April 10, 2009; Independence Day on July 3, 2009; and Labor Day on Sept. 7, 2009. In addition, county employees will be given their birthdays off.

• Formally approved an order setting elected officials’ salaries and car allowances for the coming year.

• Voted to renew the county automobile liability, general liability, law enforcement liability and automobile physical damage insurance polices with the Texas Association of Counties Risk Management Pool.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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