Travis County Commissioners move forward with new courthouse plans


by QUITA CULPEPPER / KVUE News and photojournalist JOHN FISHER

Posted on May 15, 2012 at 6:19 PM

Updated Tuesday, May 15 at 6:22 PM

AUSTIN -- As Travis County grows, so does the amount of cases flooding into the old courthouse. County commissioners are ready to build a new one.

Tuesday county commissioners approved appointing a committee that will help oversee plans for a new courthouse.
The Herman Marion Sweatt building opened in 1931. According to county commissioners, it's way behind the times when it comes to technology, security, and much more.
“You look at modern courthouses; they're just a lot more sophisticated,” said Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe. “Another thing is, we're kind of to the point where we have to invest tens of millions of dollars in order to keep using it, and I don't think that would be a good investment.”
“There's no doubt we need a civil courthouse. There's no doubt at all,” said Commissioner Margaret Gomez.
The old courthouse at 10th Street and Guadalupe is 135,000 square feet with small courtrooms and a lack of office space.
The new courthouse would be approximately 500,000 square feet. It would have state-of-the-art security, secure waiting areas, up-to-date technology, and possibly an employee daycare.
It would also be located in the heart of Austin. Right now that site is a parking lot at 3rd Street and Guadalupe. In December 2010, county commissioners spent approximately $22 million to buy the parking lot, but the question many are asking is, "Why does the new courthouse have to be located downtown?"
“We looked at that long and hard and decided that downtown was best if we could find an appropriate tract of land,” Biscoe said. “There are a lot of county services and city services located downtown, so the farther out you put it, the more inconvenient and difficult those services would be to get to.”
The next question is how to pay the $250 million to $300 million price tag.
Travis County Commissioners say they need the public's input to figure out whether to borrow bond money to build the new courthouse or go with a public private partnership. In a typical public private partnership, the county could team up with a firm that would pay to have the courthouse built and would act as sort of a landlord, leasing the building back to the county and saving taxpayers millions.