Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Coryell County approves $8 million price tag for district court building

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The Coryell County Commissioners Court approved a guaranteed maximum price (GMP) of more than $8 million for the development of a downtown county annex during a regular meeting on Dec. 12. The building will house the 440th District Court, justice-of-the-peace courts, and constables for Precincts 3 and 4, and Texas Game Wardens.

The total GMP is $8,016,114.53. The action follows a presentation of the price from contractor Butler-Cohen, which took place at a special meeting on Dec. 5.

Following a close evaluation by the Coryell County Facilities Committee last year, the structures currently used by the courts have been considered insufficient and substandard, according to a previous article by The Messenger.

“They have outgrown (the current building) and just need a proper courtroom,” County Commissioner Scott Weddle said.

The overall project amounts to $9.5 million, a factor that led to a lengthy discussion at the Dec. 12 meeting about how the county would cover the additional $1.5 million. The total cost reflects expenses outside of the GMP, such as the demolition, independent testing, civil engineering, surveying, utility connection, furniture, and equipment.

“Within the framework of the budget we have right now, can we write a check for $9,512,352, and the answer to that is no,” County Judge Roger Miller said.

Commissioner Weddle and Commissioner Kyle Matthews discussed utilizing available funds from other projects within the budget, including broadband and capital improvement, plus funds leftover from the county jail expansion. With this money, Weddle said the county has the means to pay the $1.5 million toward the annex.

Miller was concerned about the legalities of making changes to the county’s current budget and borrowing from other funds. 

“At the end of the day, no matter what we do, I want to make sure that it is legally sufficient and does not question the legality of the decisions that the court has made,” Miller said.

Matthews presented a statute that says the court could amend the budget in the interest of the taxpayer. However, the same statute also claims county funds should remain in strict compliance with the original budget except in an emergency or public necessity.

“I think it’s pretty clear that we can amend it, too,” Matthews said.

Weddle said they determined at a previous meeting - with the guidance of the Coryell County Attorney - that they can pursue either option in the bill.

“They have to allow us that,” Weddle said. “When we’re making a budget, we cannot foresee everything that is happening throughout the year.”

Following private meetings with financial advisors during a court recess to gather more insight into amending the budget, Miller motioned to approve the GMP. He adds that the court must make an amendment to the budget prior to utilizing funds outside of the $8 million.  

With a GMP in place, construction for the new building can move forward. Some work has already begun on the annex, such as the excavation of the parking lot.

The county approved the building design by Southwest Architects in September of last year. The plans include a 120-seat district courtroom, jury box, bailiff space, courthouse holding cells, and a secure area where attorneys can meet with clients.

Weddle estimates that a groundbreaking for the annex will take place around mid-January. While a project timeline has not been set, construction will take approximately 10 months.