EDINBURG, Texas (Border Report) — Blue colors from the mighty Rio Grande overlap with dark browns representing the many mesquite trees in the Rio Grande Valley throughout the new $173 million Hidalgo County Courthouse, which is set to open later this year.
Border Report was taken on a media tour Thursday afternoon of what is still very much an active construction site. But, at least one of the 31 courtrooms are completed and it’s evident that the bones of what will be a 333,000-square-foot facility are very much taking shape. The color schemes and designs planned throughout the building will be an ode to the Hispanic culture of this South Texas region that borders Mexico, its designers explained.
“This celebrates our Hispanic heritage, which is very strong here in the Valley,” said architect Laura Warren whose firm is providing the interior design. “When the courthouse is finished it also is going to celebrate or emulate our roots through finishes, like the trees.”
It’s not every day that an impoverished community, like Hidalgo County, gets a massive new building for its residents. This one has been in the making since 2013 when then-County Judge Ramon Garcia began pushing hard for a new building to replace the current courthouse, which was built circa 1954.
The new seven-story facility — going up directly beside the old courthouse in the county seat of Edinburg — will have three times the space. Its main feature is the increased security it will offer for the public, judges and defendants, which will all have separate entranceways to get into the courtrooms and the facility.
The new Hidalgo County courthouse, above, is being built next to the circa 1954 courthouse (below) in Edinburg, Texas. The jail holding area, upper right, is 45,000-square-feet and prisoners will enter through a massive sallyport, lower right. Construction manager Oscar Garza, above, shows off the District Clerk’s facilities on a media tour on May 20, 2021. (Border Report Photos/Sandra Sanchez)
The current courthouse has frequently been criticized because of its narrow hallways that force the melding of all populations in tight public spaces. This often resulted in plaintiffs and defendants literally running into one another and bailiffs walking shackled prisoners past victims while en route to a hearing.
The first floor has a massive sally port entranceway for buses and 45,000-square-feet holding facility for prisoners with several divided areas and camera monitors. It will be “bigger than half the jails in Texas counties,” said John Niesen, project manager for HDR Architectural Inc., which is providing architectural, engineering, surveying and other design services for the project.
The public will enter through an all-glass front with an expanded security check area that leads to a three-story escalator beside the ground-floor cafeteria. The District Clerk’s office will be on the second floor and the most popular county courts will be located on the third and fourth floors. Originally the fifth floor was to remain an empty shell, but the Texas Legislature added two more courts and those will now go on the fifth floor. Less-frequented district courts will be located on the sixth and seventh floors, which are accessible only by elevator or stairs.
Construction began in Jan. 2019 and was well underway when the coronavirus pandemic struck. Nevertheless, the construction never stopped, its designers said. And, that has helped the local economy, as the construction site employs 250 people every day.
The county’s funding of the facility, however, has increased. It originally was budgeted at $150 million, but that jumped when the Legislature added two more courts. County officials told Border Report that a $30 million commitment from the City of Edinburg was revoked by the city well after the building had gone up.
No new taxes were raised for the project, and the county-floated bonds at relatively low interest rates. Aside from the rising cost of lumber, which spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic, its designers said it is on track and pretty much on budget.
The project currently is 75% complete, according to a county website. The new courthouse could open as soon as November but at least by January.