Ector County Weighing Plans to Expand, Renovate 'Outdated' Courthouse

Ector County Weighing Plans to Expand, Renovate 'Outdated' Courthouse

By: Julia Deng
NewsWest 9

ECTOR COUNTY - Dozens gathered Thursday night at the Ector County Courthouse to discuss the building's future as a "modern court."

Experts from Brinkley Sargent, a Dallas-based architectural firm, presented a study of proposed updates and expansions they had spent nearly one year compiling.

They plan to analyze public opinion, renovation plans, budget options and other factors before sharing any cost estimates.

"The Ector County Courthouse was first built in 1938," said Brinkley Sargent's Greg Read. "There are major issues with plumbing and sewage."

In addition, he said the court's current staff of 183 would swell to 248 by 2024, and an estimated 292 employees by 2034, based on projected population growth within the county.

The basement and three floors of the Ector County Courthouse currently add up to 131,180 square feet - with 8 percent of that space deemed "unusable," due to "structural inefficiencies" - but will need to be expanded to approximately 183,383 square feet by 2034, according to the study.

"How much will it cost to tear this place down and fix it?" one resident asked the during the public discussion portion of the meeting.

She questioned if temporarily displacing the court's staff during renovations, and paying to move them twice, was a more cost-effective decision than simply building a new courthouse.

However, voters rejected a $95 million bond in November 2013 to construct a new building.

"There was not really an opportunity for public feedback," explained Ector County Judge Susan Redford. "And that was something the Commissioners Court really regretted after the fact."

She said taking public opinion into consideration this time was "crucial."

"Anything that we do to this building would require using their funds, so we need to know what they want, what they're interested in and what they would like to see happen," Redford told NewsWest 9.

More than 50 members of the public and courthouse staff attended Thursday night's meeting.

David Simpson, an Odessa resident who has worked downtown for more than 40 years, said his "concern for the long-term growth and prosperity of Ector County" brought him to the meeting.

"I believe the [proposed] design [requiring] 183,000 square feet is very sound," he said. "We are experiencing growth and development in so many fields [and] we need a modern courthouse that can keep up with that as a center for political and social activity."