Austin County Makes Plans for New Justice Center

By Aziza Jackson

BELLVILLE, Texas — Austin County’s planned justice center, which will include an EMS station and jail, will reportedly begin its design phase in February with construction to start in about a year, according to The Sealy News.

Austin County voters reportedly approved a $17 million bond issue for the justice center in November. According to The Sealy News, the county plans to refinance 2009 bonds and pay out reserves to cover needed repairs and new construction for the jail and EMS facility, for which about $9.5 million is reportedly budgeted.

“One thing I’ve gotten some kickback from is the process by which we hired our construction manager,” said County Judge Tim Lapham to The Sealy News. “When we were sitting here in court talking about it, I had another construction manager come by and didn’t even know we were in court. I’ve gotten a lot of pushback about how quick that happened.”

Judge Lapham reportedly invited representatives from AG/CM and ECM International to present pitches as to why they should oversee the county projects. Rockport-based architecture firm Burns Architecture, LLC completed the design work for the project.

According to Austin County News Online, Burns Architecture was asked to begin gathering information on a solution to solve problems with the county’s current aging courthouse and with a possible new justice center.  The result of the study was to reportedly create a facility that would encompass the needs of the jail and the courthouse in one multi-level facility.  Burns Architecture, LLC reportedly sent a questionnaire to the county’s departments to determine their needs.  As the questionnaires were returned and interviews with heads of departments and staff were conducted, the justice center reportedly began to take shape.

According to Austin County News Online, the new facility will include a large parking area that Burns Architecture designed to accommodate about 200 parking spaces for the public and an additional 100 spaces for all Austin County staff and Sheriff’s Department vehicles with staff parking being separated by a fence and gates.  There would also reportedly need to be a large detention pond for drainage. 

The first floor would reportedly house the jail, sheriff’s office and a large lobby with public elevators and restrooms.  There would also reportedly be a separate elevator to safely bring prisoners to the courtrooms without interfacing with the public. A large covered area in the front of the building where the building overhangs with concrete columns and benches will reportedly allow for more square footage in the upper floors.  Benches also reportedly serve the dual function of being places for people to sit as well as barriers, so a vehicle could not be used to ram into the front of the building.  

The second floor of the building would reportedly house the county clerk’s office, district attorney’s office as well as the grand jury room. The county clerk’s office would  reportedly house large vaults for record storage as well as office space to conduct their daily work. There would also be a large area that could reportedly be utilized in the future to accommodate future growth.

The third floor would reportedly house the district clerk’s office and would be similar to the county clerks offices in that it would also house large vaults for records.  There will reportedly be two courtrooms, the county courtroom with a seating capacity of 50 people and the district courtroom with an even larger seating capacity that will also located on that same floor.  Both courtrooms will reportedly each have two conference rooms, a jury room with its own restroom, storage area, holding cell and separate hallways.  One hallway will reportedly be for the jury, the other hallway will reportedly be for the prisoners being escorted to and from the courtroom to the holding cell.  There is also reportedly a visitation room for attorneys to visit with their clients as well as the judge’s offices, the county court at law offices and district judge offices along with their support staff.

A report from The Sealy News and Austin County News Online contributed to this story.

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