EDINBURG, RGV – The contractors that will build the new Hidalgo County Courthouse are slated to be on site in Edinburg the day after Labor Day, with a 30-month schedule to complete the project.
That is the word from Brian Godinez, a partner with ERO Architects of McAllen, the co-designer of record for the project.
Godinez said the prime contractor is HDR, an architectural, engineering and consulting firm based in Omaha, Nebraska. The company has worked in all 50 states in the U.S. and in 60 countries around the world. The builder is the Morganti Group out of Houston.
The Rio Grande Guardian recently interviewed Godinez about the $150 million courthouse project.
“Recently we were authorized to begin the design development phase of the project. We completed schematic design a few weeks ago and the county authorized HDR, which is the prime contract, along with our firm, the co-designer of record, to begin the design development phase,” Godinez said, proudly.
“Once we have finished the design development we will begin the construction documents phase. Those are the documents that the contractor, the builder, which is Morganti Houston, will use to begin the construction of the project. They are slated to be on site, at the construction site, the day after Labor Day, with a 30-month schedule to complete the courthouse. So we are only months away from them beginning construction of the project.”
Asked about the cost of the project, Godinez said: “We are delivering the project at $150 million. Everyone involved on the professional side from any company that is involved in this project will see to it that it does not go over $150 million. In fact, we are working very hard to see if we can deliver it for under $150 million. That is the price and that is the budget and that is what we intend to stick to.”
The look of the new building is different to what was originally proposed. There was pushback from some stakeholders early on that the first proposal was not aesthetically pleasing. Godinez said credit for the design should go to two people, Kate Diamond, design principal of HDR, and Eli Ochoa, president and CEO of ERO.
“They decided months and months ago to put a lot of the cultural relevance significance into the exterior and some of the interior components of the building. There are several metaphors that represent what is indigenous to our history, to the land and people we respect here in the county,” Godinez explained.
“There are many of those elements involved. You can see certain water features, you can see wall finishings, the ground exterior wood-like effect that surrounds the building, including when you walk in, that beautiful jewel box effect that has got the talavera tile that embraces the entrance to the building.”
Godinez said many of these features “pay homage” to Hidalgo County, its people and its history.
“The City of Edinburg and the County were very, very, excited when Eli and Kate got together and came up with the design of that exterior several months ago. As far as we know, the exterior is going to continue the way it looks today. We hope that is what it looks like when the building is completed a couple of years from now.”
The new courthouse is slated to serve the needs of Hidalgo County for the next 50-plus years, just like the current one has. It is therefore important that the residents of the county have pride in the building. Asked if that would happen, Godinez said:
“We believe so. This is a seven-story building that is going to be close to 400,000 square feet, right smack in the center of our county, in the seal of the county, in Edinburg. This is going to be a site to behold and you will be able to see it from miles away, such as when you are on the expressway on I-69 Central, or when you are coming from the university, and on the south side of Closner. You cannot help but see this beautiful structure that is going to be up there. So, I cannot imagine that anyone would not be proud of this facility and how it represents our region, the city of Edinburg and our county.”
Asked if the new structure will be big enough, given that Hidalgo is one of the fastest growing counties in Texas, Godinez said:
“The building was designed for close to 3,000 people on a daily basis. And so with courts in mind and a seven story structure we are right now designing for 24 courts. Ultimately, with the fifth floor being shelved and empty, we will have the ability to add six more courtrooms.
“The life expectancy of this building is well over 75 years of age. So, we think this is going to be able to accommodate the high growth rate of the county and the demands that the state and then state legislature put on us, having to have more district courts and county courts. We should be able to accommodate the growth of this county for well over 50, 60, 70 years.”
There have been calls from some Hidalgo County residents that the new courthouse should not be built in downtown Edinburg, that a better bet would be nearer the expressway, thus making access easier. Asked to respond to those calls, Godinez said:
“There was discussion years ago, looking at the possibility of the courthouse not being in the downtown Edinburg area. When we started looking at the cost of a courthouse of this magnitude, of this size, somewhere else, outside of the downtown area of Edinburg, the cost started getting way too high for any one of us to be able to manage it.
“The fact is, we designed the facility, to embrace and be a part of the downtown master plan of the City of Edinburg, and the fact that we are able to accommodate not only the growth of the judicial system and the number of defendants in custody, but also the economic growth opportunities that is going to occur in the downtown Edinburg area, I cannot imagine this building being anywhere else. If we even thought about, even remotely, thought about moving it today to another location, you could be looking at two times the cost of what we are dealing with today.”
Asked about the timetable for the project, Godinez said the construction is scheduled to be completed inside 30 months.
“We anticipate the groundbreaking to be sometime in September or October. That is up to the county to decide. We have been hearing it is somewhere in that timeframe. So, if you look at 30 months from September, you are looking at the possibility of… we hope it is going to be in the Spring of 2021, when the building will be completed and we will be moving into the facility.”
Asked what will happen with the existing courthouse, Godinez said: “We are not sure. There has been a lot of discussion about demolition.”
Asked if he had any wrap-up remarks, Godinez said:
“We as a firm are just excited to be involved with HDR. The fact that we have one of the global leaders as project managers, with Jacobs, and world renowned construction company with Morganti, the county has done a heck of a job putting together a good team to see to it that this building is going to be constructed and be the building that we have all envisioned for years and years.
“The fact that our firm, ERO, was involved almost ten years ago in the initial planning and to still be involved, and, on top of that, to be the co-designer of record, working with one of the most renowned architectural companies in the world when it comes to civic facilities, in HDR, we cannot be more happy or more pleased. The fact that our legacy is going to continue on for years to come in with such a magnificent facility, we are just very proud of that.”
Editor’s Note: There are residents in Hidalgo County that would like to see the county courthouse built next to an expressway, either I-69C or I-2. We will feature the arguments of one of those residents, Jane Cross, the Republican Party candidate for Hidalgo County Judge, later this week.
Can’t wait to see all the tears from the people who say we don’t need a new courthouse.