Hidalgo County Approves Preliminary Courthouse Design

EDINBURG, Texas — Hidalgo County Commissioners have approved schematic designs for a new multimillion-dollar courthouse that could be completed as early as 2020. Though the approval did not give the project an official green light, or provide funding, it will allow the design process to move forward.

According to ERO Architects of McAllen, Texas, a firm contracted to complete the courthouse’s schematic designs only, this phase is the first of three design steps prior to construction. The commissioners’ next move will be to review the courthouse plan in greater detail, select an architect and determine a funding mechanism. As of press time, this process will likely begin at the commissioners’ June 30 meeting.

ERO Architects’ proposed judicial complex would improve greatly on the county’s increasingly crowded 1950s-era courthouse, which officials estimate requires $20 million to $30 million in renovations. It outlines a modern, 21st century facility that is both spacious and more easily accessible. The proposed 10-story, 460,000-square-foot building would feature 24 courtrooms and introduce a jail component that meets established jail and judicial requirements on each floor.

“We have spent years trying to make this old courthouse work for the people of Hidalgo County and have ended up spending extra on maintenance and upkeep, replacing equipment, and on rental space and modular buildings,” Precinct 2 Commissioner Hector Palacios told Your Valley Voice after the commissioners’ recent decision. “It’s not cost effective to continue to pump money into repairs — and we have just outgrown it.”

As the existing courthouse also requires defendants, inmates and members of the public to comingle in nearly all areas, the design would directly address current security concerns. According to information about the project on the ERO Architects website, by integrating a “careful distribution of hierarchy of spaces into public, semi-public, semi-private and private areas” and by “enforcing a clear circulation separation of defendants in custody from the public and legal community,” the design would help ensure safety for all users. It would also be equipped with modern security technology and systems, secure parking for judges and support staff, and elevators and escalators to help separate the facility’s various populations.

Meanwhile, improved energy management systems and a proposed glass façade on the courthouse’s north side would translate into increased building efficiency. This would also provide views of a planned outdoor plaza. This unique pedestrian area, comprised of hexagonal patches of green space defined by pedestrian walkways, would connect to the city’s downtown master plan, as well as the nearby arts district and the local University of Texas campus.

To accommodate expected growth, the building’s two topmost floors would remain vacant, and could house up to six additional courtrooms. According to ERO estimates, this added space would help meet the county’s judicial needs for up to 75 years.

Total construction costs for the new judicial complex have been estimated at $157 million, $30 million of which would be dedicated to architectural and engineering fees and other professional services. Commissioners will determine how the facility will be funded at a later date. However, according to local newspaper, The Monitor, current negotiations would require the county to provide 25 percent of the project’s total cost.