Victoria County commissioners have decided to begin work on the courtroom renovation project in-house.
The county has dealt with a lack of courtroom space and increasing courthouse activity since the early 2000s. County officials agreed on a plan to expand available courtroom space and reconfigure part of the 1967 courthouse last year, when they decided to use the room where commissioners court currently meets as an additional courtroom for a county court-at-law judge. Commissioners would meet in the renovated space of County Treasurer Sean Kennedy’s office.
On Monday, commissioners discussed the fact that renovating courtroom could cost $124,000 more than originally anticipated. When commissioners initially settled on that plan, they had estimated the complete cost of the renovation to $468,000, including the price of benches, furniture, technology and inspections for the new space.
But after receiving proposals for the project, the total estimated cost increased to $592,693. Commissioners received only one bid for the project from Weaver & Jacobs Constructors in Cuero for $442,000.
The biggest area of concern for commissioners is a vertical beam that is in the space but would block part of the audience’s view in the renovated courtroom. After considering multiple options to reduce costs or reevaluate the project Monday, commissioners decided to start the work by demolishing the walls in-house, and evaluate the space with the beam again afterward.
Kelly Hubert, the county’s facilities manager, said Monday that a variety of factors have delayed the project and led to the cost being higher than originally estimated.
“Basically, we’re a victim of a strong economy,” he said.
Commissioner Gary Burns said because the project is “so far behind schedule,” taking extra time to evaluate wouldn’t make a significant difference in the overall time frame. He suggested the plan to have the county demolish the walls, then review the room with the beam and create new mockups.
“And maybe we can come up with something if we can visualize it not on paper,” he said.
Before settling on that plan, commissioners discussed two possible options that would reduce the total project cost. One would be to keep the vertical beam, which could knock off about $143,000 from the total price tag.
Commissioner Kevin Janak said he was “perfectly fine” with Burns’ recommendation to look at the courtroom after walls are knocked out to get a better visual of the beam.
“I would hate for the beam to be in the way, to be an obstacle for the viewing of the public,” he said.
Another option to reduce costs would be to eliminate some of the planned ceiling and flooring details, which would decrease the total by about $15,000.
County Court-at-Law No. 1 Judge Travis Ernst reminded the court that commissioners already have a courtroom, and confirmed that the goal of the project was to create a courtroom for criminal and civil cases to work in, because they are one courtroom shy. He said he doesn’t need anything “fancy,” but just needs a room.
“I need a room I can go do my work in,” he said. “I’ll take carpet, I’ll take stained carpet, I don’t really care. I need a room.”
County Judge Ben Zeller said the delay of the project is the beam, not the extra additions.
Burns said he expects the demolition of the walls can happen in about the next three weeks.
Hubert said the court will not need to reject the contractor’s bid, but will ask the contractor to remove the cost of the demolition of the walls from their proposal.