You may have heard discussions in the coffee shops or among your neighbors about the County moving some departments and people. These discussions are true.
When the Commissioners Court decided to fund and build the new Court
House, they made the correct decision to construct the building for not only today’s needs, but also for future growth. As a result of this decision, the design of the building includes four floors, each with about 30,000 square foot of space, and for the expansion needs, one of these floors, the third, was left empty.
In January the question was asked about the length of time it would be before this space was projected to be used. The answer was a little surprising. In five years, it is projected that the county will require a new Court-of-Law. When this happens, it will be necessary to build a new court room on the third floor for this function. The next use of this empty space will be a projected new District Court. This will not happen until 8-12 years from now. This will also require the need for a new court room on the third floor.
Each of these new court rooms and associated office space for the new judges and their staff will require about 7,000 square feet.
Thus, unless something was done now, all of the third floor would remain empty for five years, three fourths of it would remain empty for 8-12 years and the remaining half of the floor would be empty for over 12 years. At the same time that all of this space would be empty, several county functions would remain in older, cramped, inefficient buildings. The answer was simple; utilize the space in the new Court House now while at the same time keeping space available for expansion. As an added benefit, close the county leased facilities and close and dispose of several older facilities that would no longer be needed.
Such a plan has been developed.
The new Court House will be ready for occupancy by mid-October of this year. At that time, all of the functions now located in the Government Center on Ridge Road (the old Cameron Building) will be moved to the 1st, 2nd, and 4th floors of the new court house. This will include our two District Courts, our Court-of-Law, the District Attorney, the District Clerk, and the County Clerk. Replacing these functions in the Government Center will be the Tax Assessor, Indigent Health Care, Health Coordinator, Elections Office, Ag Extension office, and the Drivers License office now located near Brookshire’s.
These rearrangements will allow us to close and not renew on September 30, three leased facilities; the current location of the elections office, the current location of the Drivers License office, and the current location of the Ag extension office.
We also are moving our Technology Department (IT) into the first floor of the Library; a location that will allow them to service more quickly the more than fifty computers located in this building while also placing the department nearer to the new court house where, between the Library and the Court House, most of their work will be located. By doing this, we then will be able to close the Annex, a historic building just off the square on Fannin Street.
To complete this movement, we then are going to move our existing two Justice of the Peace (JP) offices and their two constables, to the third floor of the new Court House. Additionally, as a result of the new Census, we will be required to add two additional JP’s and two additional Constables in Rockwall County. These offices will be added after the General Election in November of 2012, but we are going to go ahead and outfit the third floor now for these new positions.
These movements will allow us to close another building, 108 Fannin Street, just across the street from the Annex.
These actions will reduce the county facilities from 12 buildings to 7 and will save us about $125,000 per year in operating costs for those facilities. It will also allow us to fill about 8,000 square feet of the empty 30,000 square feet on the third floor.
You might ask, “Why don’t you use more of the empty space on the 3rd floor and close more facilities?” Good question and the answer all comes down to money.
No monies were placed in the construction budget for the third floor of the new Court House. To outfit the floor with the needed construction, lights, heat and air conditioning, computer hook-up, etc, will cost about $85 per square foot. Thus to place the JP’s and their Constables on the floor will be about $900,000. The intent was to borrow the money for this fit out from our existing reserve fund, and then repay the “loan” to ourselves when we sold the buildings to be vacated. With the plan outlined above, we cannot afford to fill additional space on the 3rd floor. We are now investigating other options that might allow additional use of the space. I suggest you contact your Commissioner and let him/her know your thoughts on this.
Jerry Hogan is the Rockwall County Judge.
His phone number is 972-204-6000 or 214-394-4033.