Texas Courthouse Project Will Meet Growing County Needs

By CN Staff

NEW BRAUNFELS, Texas—Three years ago in 2017, Comal County’s population was growing at the rate of 5.1 percent per year, making it one of the fastest-growing counties in the country. This challenged the county to expand all aspects of its infrastructure including the need for growing its justice facilities.

Comal County Engineer Thomas H. Hornseth, P.E. framed the challenge for the project and said, “We asked our design team to provide a creative multi-phased plan to almost double our courtroom capacity while integrating best practices for courthouse design for a cost effective solution that should serve our growing county’s needs for the next decade plus.”

HDR—an employee-owned design firm that specializes in architecture, engineering, environmental and consulting services—responded to Comal County’s challenge with a solution that will proceed in three phases—Phase 1: adaptive reuse and expansion; Phase 2—temporary relocation and renovation; and Phase 3—completion where all of the functions are moved into their final spaces.

SpawGlass is the general contractor for both the Landa Building adaptive reuse and expansion and the major renovation of the existing County Annex that is on track to be completed in early 2021.

Comal County is graced with a beautiful historic Texas courthouse that has been transformed to the county government seat. The Annex Building was constructed in the 1990s to accommodate the courts and some of the county administrative functions and to provide structured parking. The county also acquired the adjacent neighboring property, known as Landa Building, to hold for future growth.

Fortunately, at project initiation, Landa was no longer occupied so the multi-phased project was able to start with a complete gut, adaptive re-use and expansion to create the new Landa County Courthouse, while leaving the existing courts operational in their scattered locations.

Originally built as a bank, the Landa Building is a handsome example of Texas mid-century modern design.

“Transforming a 1970s vintage bank into a courthouse was no small undertaking,” said Kate Diamond, HDR’s civic design director.

“The essence of adaptive re-use is embracing both the constraints and the opportunities of the existing shell and core. One of the best features of the bank was the structural bay spacing that allowed us to design column free courtrooms. On the other hand, one of the toughest challenges was the 13-foot floor-to-floor height.”

Through careful coordination of the new mechanical system—through the gallery and over the jury box—enabled the team to maintain a 10-foot 6-inch height over the main within the constraints of the 13-foot tall floor. Additionally, the bank’s original pendant lights made by an important Texas artisan were repurposed as accent pieces in the public circulation area and the bank drive-through was transformed into a secure sally port for delivery of in-custody defendants to the courthouse.

The 36,000-square-foot of adaptive re-use/expansion of Landa will include three new courtrooms and judge’s chambers; secure holding spaces for defendants in custody; replacement of interior partitions; plus comprehensive MEP systems, data, AV and security upgrades.

With the completion of the Landa building, Phase 2 includes moving all District Courts out of the County Annex building to temporarily occupy the Landa Courthouse during the 17,600-square-foot renovation of the Annex. Features of the new Annex Court Building renovation will include the following:

  • expanded and more functional security screening area at the ground floor
  • improvements to County Clerk space, restrooms and public space
  • cosmetic up-grades to the second floor
  • 6,000 square feet of renovated space on the third floor to accommodate four courtrooms –
    two new district courtrooms and the renovation of two existing district courtrooms.

In the final phase of the project, the District Courts will move back into the renovated Annex building. The District Attorney’s office and the County Courts will move out of their existing ad hoc courtrooms into the new Landa Courthouse, leaving expanded space for the District Clerk in the Annex.

Through the strategic implementation of adaptive re-use and renovation of current spaces, HDR’s design team created space for expansion in historic downtown New Braunfels without adding significant new square footage.

“Most importantly, this addition and renovation project will provide new integrated security and improve circulation all while creating a far more accessible, attractive and efficient court system for the growing needs of Comal County,” said Diamond.