The crisp, sunny winter day was made to order as Grimes County elected officials broke ground for the county’s new justice center Dec. 31. Witnessing the historic moment in a field adjacent to the Grimes County Law Enforcement Center on FM 149 West were Grimes County employees, members of law enforcement, regional and local media and a few citizens.
As the officials waited with shovels in hand, County Judge Joe Fauth said, “We are at the site of the new justice and business center for Grimes County. We had a goal in front of us. This is a project that’s been going on for 12 years with a lot of discussion, a lot of focus on how we’re going to get it taken care of.”
Fauth continued, “We’ve signed a contract with Collier Construction, and we have enough money in the bank to pay for this project without having to take a loan or increase taxes. It’s a teamwork effort and that’s what this county government is all about – working as a team.”
The $10,455,000 million, 32,093 square foot ADA accessible facility will house most county departments with the exception of the county attorney, county judge, election administration, probation, 9-1-1 and Road and Bridge. It will feature a secure, climate-controlled walkway from the jail to the court that will reduce inmate transport time to one minute.
In addition to a district court and county court at law, the design includes a special proceedings courtroom that can serve the grand jury, Justices of the Peace and commissioners court. While the building contains secure entry there are secure and non-secure areas.
Pct. 1 Commissioner Chad Mallett who chaired the Building Committee concurred with Fauth that the project has “been a long time coming.”
Mallett said, “It’s been a lot of work and I think the citizens will be proud of what we were able to accomplish.”
Serving with Mallett on the committee was Pct. 4 Commissioner Phillip Cox, fulfilling the work begun by his predecessor the late Gary Husfeld, and yet another indicator of the project’s longevity.
Participating elected officials included Auditor Mary Nichols, Treasurer Janice Trant, Tax Assessor-Collector Mary Ann Waters, County Clerk Vanessa Burzynski, County Court at Law Judge Tuck McLain and 506th District Court Judge Albert (Buddy) McCaig and 12th Judicial District Judge Donald Kraemer.
Also providing input were Sheriff Don Sowell and Chief Deputy Todd Greene from the Grimes Sheriff’s Office, Investigator John Wren from District Attorney Andria Bender’s office and Maintenance Manager Al Peeler.
While county offices frequented by the general public will also find a new home at the Justice Center, the primary focus has been relieving Grimes County’s crowded court dockets and courthouse safety.
District Attorney Andria Bender said, “I’m very excited to have a new facility with space and up to date electronics and technology to use in the courtroom. It’s a great day!”
County Court at Law Judge Tuck McLain said, “It’s really going to help the citizens of Grimes County. One of my biggest issues is getting space to hold court settings. Right now, I’m pushing things three and four months out. When I have a dedicated courtroom, we should be able to cut the time in half or maybe even less. Things like divorces and probates, I will move them a lot faster. It’s been a long time coming. I’ve been working here 30 years and I sure am glad to see this day.”
Addressing the safety aspect of the new facility, Grimes County Sheriff Don Sowell said, “We’re excited on the law enforcement side…we’re taking our courtrooms and other offices to another level of security for the public and all the occupants.”
Sowell explained that with the justice center located next to the jail, transporting and holding inmates for court will be safer, more secure and eliminate the possibility of an escape.
He said, “We’ll walk them into the courtroom in an above ground secure tunnel.”
Citing a higher level of security screening to and from the courtroom, Sowell said, “I see it as a nice safe environment for all of our citizens.”
On hand for the groundbreaking were Ron Roberts of Vanir Construction Management, Michael and Clayton Collier, owners of Collier Construction, and architect Michael Lloyd of PGAL.
Lloyd said, “I’m excited to see it get from the plans to a real building.”