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Photograph Courtesy JULIA BENITEZ SULLIVAN

Featured, from left: Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, John Sharp, Chancellor, Texas A&M University System, and Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García, on Tuesday, September 15, 2015, at McAllen City Hall to announced plans by Texas A&M University to open a full-fledged campus in northwest McAllen, which includes a portion of the Edinburg school district. On Monday, February 8, 2016, County Judge García and the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court will meet with the Edinburg Mayor and Edinburg City Council to discuss the latest plans and financing options for the proposed construction of a new Hidalgo County Courthouse, which would be located in downtown Edinburg.

Photograph Courtesy JULIA BENITEZ SULLIVAN

Plans for a proposed new courthouse will be reviewed on Monday, February 8, 2016 during a joint public session of the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court and the Edinburg City Council set to begin at 2 p.m. at Edinburg City Hall, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced. The EEDC, of which Agustín García, Jr. is Executive Director, is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg Mayor and Edinburg City Council. The EEDC Board of Directors is comprised of Mark Iglesias as President, Harvey Rodríguez as Vice President, Ellie M. Torres as Secretary/Treasurer, and Mayor Richard García and Richard Ruppert as Members. Richard García and Agustín García, Jr. are not related. According to the agenda posting by the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court, the county’s elected leaders will focus on three items: Discussion regarding the County of Hidalgo New Courthouse Project; Presentation by ERO Architects regarding the New County of Hidalgo Courthouse; and Discussion, consideration and action on Memorandum of Understanding between County of Hidalgo regarding financial contribution for Courthouse Project. The city’s agenda is similar, stating that in addition to being present for the county commissioners’ court stated scheduled actions, the Mayor and Edinburg City Council will review, both in open and closed (executive) sessions, the Memorandum of Understanding regarding financial contribution for the proposed courthouse. The meeting, which is open to the public, comes a little more than six months after a similar gathering, when on Tuesday, July 28, 2015, both governing bodies held a joint workshop to review the schematic designs for the new courthouse, according to a county news release on the event According to the county news release, the following highlights of the July 28, 2015 meeting took place: Presented by ERO Architects and the firm’s judicial consultants, the new courthouse would “remain on the same existing courthouse square and serve as a catalyst for downtown economic development, while providing increased governmental services in an accessible, highly secure, 21st century judicial facility.” County Judge García and Edinburg Mayor García assured the public that the cost of the new courthouse will come from available resources and not from raising taxes. “Neither public body (the City of Edinburg or County of Hidalgo) is going to need to raise their tax rate to fund this project,” said Judge García. The county judge and Edinburg mayor are not related. Initial designs by ERO Architects placed the cost of a new courthouse upwards of $200 million and at more than 472,000 sq. ft. After seeing the proposed plans, the county hired a third party architect to conduct a peer review. The review recommended changes that would save the county $50 million. ERO took the recommendations and redesigned the building cutting 150,000 sq. ft. and reducing the cost to an estimated $149 million.

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Proposed courthouse to be reviewed on Monday, during 2 p.m. joint session of the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court and Edinburg City Council

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

Plans for a proposed new courthouse will be reviewed on Monday, February 8, 2016 during a joint public session of the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court and the Edinburg City Council set to begin at 2 p.m. at Edinburg City Hall, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced.

The EEDC, of which Agustín García, Jr. is Executive Director, is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg Mayor and Edinburg City Council.

The EEDC Board of Directors is comprised of Mark Iglesias as President, Harvey Rodríguez as Vice President, Ellie M. Torres as Secretary/Treasurer, and Mayor Richard García and Richard Ruppert as Members.

Richard García and Agustín García, Jr. are not related.

According to the agenda posting by the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court, the county’s elected leaders will focus on three items:

• Discussion regarding the County of Hidalgo New Courthouse Project
• Presentation by ERO Architects regarding the New County of Hidalgo Courthouse; and
• Discussion, consideration and action on Memorandum of Understanding between County of Hidalgo regarding financial contribution for Courthouse Project.

The city’s agenda is similar, stating that in addition to being present for the county commissioners’ court stated scheduled actions, the Mayor and Edinburg City Council will review, both in open and closed (executive) sessions, Memorandum of Understanding regarding financial contribution for the proposed courthouse.

The meeting, which is open to the public, comes a little more than six months after a similar gathering, when on Tuesday, July 28, 2015, both governing bodies held a joint workshop to review the schematic designs for the new courthouse, according to a county news release on the event

According to the county news release, the following highlights of the July 28, 2015 meeting took place:

Presented by ERO Architects and the firm’s judicial consultants, the new courthouse would “remain on the same existing courthouse square and serve as a catalyst for downtown economic development, while providing increased governmental services in an accessible, highly secure, 21st century judicial facility.”
County Judge García and Edinburg Mayor García assured the public that the cost of the new courthouse will come from available resources and not from raising taxes.

“Neither public body (the City of Edinburg or County of Hidalgo) is going to need to raise their tax rate to fund this project,” said Judge García.

The county judge and Edinburg mayor are not related.

Initial designs by ERO Architects placed the cost of a new courthouse upwards of $200 million and at more than 472,000 sq. ft. After seeing the proposed plans, the county hired a third party architect to conduct a peer review. The review recommended changes that would save the county $50 million. ERO took the recommendations and redesigned the building cutting 150,000 sq. ft. and reducing the cost to an estimated $149 million.

The six-story courthouse features a glass facade providing natural light into the lobby, a civic plaza and parking lot. With more than 311,000 sq. ft. available, the building will house 24 courtrooms (six courtrooms per floor), the 13th Court of Appeals, offices for the District Attorney, County Clerk, District Clerk, Public Defender, Indigent Defense, Adult Probation and a Sheriff’s Office holding area.

The new design and floor plans incorporate critical security measures by separating defendants-in-custody from the public and staff to ensure safety. Judges and elected officials will also have secure parking with a private entrance on the second floor.

According to Eli Ochoa, CEO of ERO, the new design cut 150,000 square feet off the original design, although it is still “nearly three times bigger” than 61-year-old existing courthouse. And, in spite of the larger size and added security features, the cost to maintain and operate the new building will be just under what the county spends on the current facility.

“Using energy management systems, the cost to run the new courthouse will be less than the current courthouse, even though it’s almost three times bigger,” Ochoa said.

The proposed plans tie the courthouse to the city square with a pedestrian promenade to maximize opportunities for businesses and spur economic development, said ERO Partner and Chief Marketing Officer Brian Godínez.

“The new courthouse site plan and building orientation requires the closing of Closner Boulevard allowing for safer traffic and pedestrian flow,” said Godínez. “Urban green space engages visitors and provides a connection with the downtown arts and restaurant district, Edinburg City Hall and the University of Texas RGV campus.”

On its website, ERO Architects provides other key points for the construction of a new courthouse, and its potential beneficial for Edinburg:

The existing courthouse was built in 1954 to accommodate three courts when the county’s population was 168,629. The building has experienced four expansion upgrades to address the growth and judicial needs of the county. The county’s growth now has a population of almost five times that of 1950.

Today, the county has 24 courts with some courtrooms, legal, administrative, general government and warehousing functions located at off-site facilities.

In 2004, the courthouse passed its 50-year mark designating it a historical structure by the Texas Historical Commission. ERO produced an historical preservation plan in 2012 in the event restoration of the current courthouse would need to take place. The courthouse needs to be brought up to code and requires several life safety, security and mechanical upgrades and improvements. This remediation and renovation effort could take up to four years and could cost well over $20,000,000.

Located in the heart of downtown Edinburg, the new Hidalgo County courthouse can serve as an economic and quality of life cornerstone for the city’s urban vision and goals. The design of the new courthouse offers a modern 21st century judicial complex that is more spacious, secure and accessible.

The new design addresses these security issues by enforcing a clear circulation separation of defendants-in-custody from the public and legal community. The careful distribution of hierarchy of spaces into public, semi-public, semi-private and private areas has provided a functional plan that addresses a major concern for safety and flow.

The new design also introduces a jail component onto each floor that meets established jail and judicial requirements. The courthouse will be equipped with modern security technology and systems, as well as secure parking for judges and support staff.

A recent TxDOT study calls for the new judicial complex layout to close off Business 281, allowing for safer traffic and pedestrian flow that is common in similar courthouse squares. Leading up to the building is an exciting green space engaging visitors and outdoor enthusiasts in a central park-setting connecting to the city’s downtown master plan, the arts district and University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley.

Hidalgo County commissioner’s court and the City of Edinburg’s council are determined to make the proposed courthouse a reality, sooner than later. They understand the need for a new facility and complex that can advance economic growth, offer a better judicial system, address life safety and security issues, encompass more space and be a part of a broader urban vision.

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For more information on the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation and the City of Edinburg, please log on to http://edinburgedc.com or to http://www.facebook.com/edinburgedc

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