Judges express concern with courtroom design for new courthouse

EDINBURG — The contractor for the new courthouse will build a mock courtroom to give key stakeholders the ability to review the design before construction begins, and so far, state district judges do not like the way their courtrooms will flow.

Oscar Garcia of Jacobs Project Management met with the Hidalgo County Board of Judges on Thursday to brief them on the project and to find two judges willing to serve on a steering committee that will focus on the “look and feel” of the facility.

“The design development phase is where we really need y’all’s input,” Garcia told them. “It’s the furniture, it’s the gallery … the way the courtrooms are going to be laid out and work and function within that site.”

The project is well underway already, Garcia said. Terracon Consultants Inc. is already testing the soil, the Texas Department of Transportation will be meeting to discuss the closure of a portion of Highway 107, and if all goes according to plan, ground will be broken in the fall.

“By the end of this calendar year, your courthouse will be under construction,” Garcia told the judges.

But before that happens, Morganti Texas, the construction manager at risk, will build a mock courtroom at a nearby site. The firm expects to build it in June and is currently searching for a location.

“It’s going to have what the design looks like in real life,” Garcia said. “It’s going to have ceiling height; it’s going to have all the different parts of the court laid out so you can come in and make sure that the line of sights work and all the other pieces work.”

The courtrooms are currently designed to be about 2,000 square feet, giving judges almost double the space they currently have. But the manner in which people will reach their offices did not sit well with the board of judges.

“There’s not going to be traffic direct to you all. The traffic is going to come through the courtroom, and the bailiff will then escort accordingly,” Garcia said. “If that’s an issue, if that’s a problem, now is the time to voice (those concerns).”

And that’s exactly what the judges did.

“You have to go through the courtroom to go talk to the court coordinator?” state District Judge Rose Guerra Reyna asked. “So when you’re in a jury trial, you’re going to have people trampsing in all the time?”

“In my court, you have to go through (the courtroom) to get to my offices,” state District Judge Renee Betancourt said. “Yeah, so it’s not good.”

Reyna said, “OK. Make a note. That is ridiculous.”

The judges also had questions about Edinburg’s financial commitment and parking.

“I heard the city of Edinburg didn’t want to contribute any money,” state District Judge Bobby Flores said. “Is that true?”

Garcia said the county will be sitting down with Edinburg officials next week to discuss the issue.

“The parking, is it convenient for everybody,” Flores later asked.

The question was marked by silence from Garcia.

“Yes? No? We don’t know,” Flores asked rhetorically.

“Parking for judges will be above the vehicular sally port,” Garcia said, skirting the question. “Parking for the site is still ongoing. We’re looking at (parking) during construction and post construction.”

“It’s called a parking garage,” one of the judges said, though that’s not currently part of the official design for the courthouse.

The board ultimately appointed state District Judge Letty Lopez and County Court-at-Law No. 5 Judge Arnoldo Cantu to the nine-member steering committee.