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Travis County Commissioners Court

April 3, 2007
Item 27

View captioned video.

Number 27, consider and take appropriate action on civil courts building program. A, preliminary report on civil courts needs and current facility deficiencies. B, appointment of steering committee for civil courts planning and adoption of a charge. And c, authorization to negotiate with broaddus and associates for additional services, including project definition, planning and programming. Afternoon.

>> judge, show me abstaining. I said hold up, but show me abstaining.

>> hold item means abstaining.

>> until I get better clarification. Thank you.

>> until better clarification. Good afternoon. I'm alicia perez, executive manager for administrative operations. Judge, we have here three items concerning civil courts planning. The first item is the preliminary report from judge john dietz with the civil courts -- who is the civil courts administrative judge. It will cover the current space needs and deficiencies of the current facility and it will set the stage for answering the question of why we need to plan for a new courthouse. The other two items, as you mentioned, judge, will be appropriate of a committee and approval of the charge, be and then the last would be request for authorization to negotiate with broaddus and associates for additional services, planning and programming services. So I'll turn it over to judge dietz.


>> [inaudible - no mic]. This is not intended to be an exhaustive document, but really sort of intended to hit the highlights. A couple of week ago when we made a presentation, I had said that the courthouse was under capacity, and given the time that we've had to prepare on this, we've been able to study when we say we don't have enough room, be we've been able to quantify it. And if I could ask belinda, because we're now asserting that we're 40,000 feet short in our present courthouse, and I'd like for you to know a little bit of the methodology which we use to come up with this figure.

>> judge dietz indicated this was a very quick look. One of the things that I did was contact the individual elected official. Obviously in planning and budget office we have access to their organization charts, their list, be and we took a look at their staffing and applied your typical county space standard guidelines to those staffing requirements and then I interviewed individuals on specific use areas for departments that they may not even have today, but should have to operate effectively. Examples of that would be discussion with judge dietz about public waiting areas. If you have attorney work rooms in connection with your courtrooms. With the courtroom sizes, typically like jury room configurations, and a whole host of other things for each of the offices, including the two clerks, the district and county clerk, the probate court, the jp and then the district and county courts that I discussed with judge dietz. We also -- I also looked at kind of what facilities had used in the past as some guidelines from the national center of state courts for looking at courtroom sizes and types of configurations. Facilities also has a fairly robust strategy for how to apply occupancy levels or how you intend to use a conference room to configure the size, appropriate size of that conference room. And I stack that by department, giving today's staffing pattern, today's use and what we have and what we don't have.

>> if you try to stack everything into the building, that 40,000 square feet probably wouldn't go to everything that you need because you have some constraints on the physical structure itself, mean ug have only certain amount of space in the quadrant of the building because of the way that it's configured. We're short around 40,000 square feet.

>> to give you an idea of scale, as I've mentioned before, the court is approximately 125,000 square feet, roughly 25,000 a floor with five floors. Only about 75,000 of that is usable space because of the amount that's given over to the common areas, the hallways, the stairwells and the mechanical. So a 40,000 square foot deficit and we've only got 75,000 usable square feet in there right now shows you I believe how dire the need is. Secondly, we in connection with the auditor's office and mike wicker, have conducted a very detailed study about how many district and associated courts that we'll need by the year 2040. Our current figure is 22 district and associated courts by the year 2040. In addition, and that compares to 13 now, so with the growth of 500,000 population over the next 33 years, we believe that we will need to add in nine additional district courts. You currently have five additional courts within the courthouse, the two county courts at law, the jp and the two probate courts. And we can study it and we will during the planning process, but it's not really hard to imagine that if you have five now, over the same period of time I can see probate growing by one and I can see the county court at laws growing by one, and so I believe that you will need something in the neighborhood of 30 plus chowrt courts by the year 2040. We tried to detail some of the -- all of us I think love the heman marian sweatt historical courthouse, but we also recognize that it has deficiencies by reason of its 77-year-old design. Most of which liked to first talk about the public. As I mentioned the other day we receive over 200,000 visitors a year coming in through the back sallyport and the two tunnels on the east side. We have no jury waiting room, as most major metropolitan courthouses have. And so if the juries are waiting for their judge as they're doing pretrials and that type of thing, they gather in the hall or sit on our well used ancient benches. Our courtrooms themselves were designed for a different era. The other day I took a member from the travis historical commission, mr. Hutchison, and we dropped in on judge naranjo who is having a med mall case. All of the boxes of that case were out in the hall because there was not anyplace within the courtroom to place them. There were lawyers that we didn't have counselor tables -- counsel tables available for them. In 1930 they didn't have complex, multiparty type of litigation, and so the courtroom design was not available then. And in the 21st century we're used to these type of things. In addition, throughout almost every courtroom we viewed, you've got sight line problems between, for instance, as I sit here, there's no problem with sight lines because we have clear vision of one another, but in our courts, because of the way they were designed, we sometimes have a problem with the reporters or we may have a problem with the witnesses and that type of thing. I really invite you to go inspect where the district ey're on the first floor of the courthouse, and in a space that's now a little secure. A couple of the thing that we worry about are like the fire sprinklers and the electric wires for all the computers all share the very same space and there's no segregation, separation or as we refer to in the paper, there's no stacking of those different systems. And jim barr tells us that in order for that to be done to where it would properly segregate those different kinds of systems, you would eat into the usable work space of our already short, critical courthouse. Finally I've sort of foe kissed on a lot -- focus odd what we regard as security concerns within the present courthouse. Most notably being that we receive -- I believe the number is between 35 and 40 prisoners each month in the course of our litigation, whether child support, cps or family law. There is no holding cell, there is no secured circulation of those prisoners within the present courthouse. The two entrances to the courthouse are not patrolled and if you review the shootings within tyler, if you view some of the shooting that have occurred in other courthouses across this nation, you'll see that without the external security that the tunnel entrances to the east pose a hazard to citizens and court personnel alike. And finally, within the courthouse itself, just yesterday they told me that the security buzzer I have in my -- under my desk, not my bench, but under my desk, be was useless and so they were removing it until they could figure out a different type of system. But we do not have adequate alarm or surveillance throughout that courthouse, and it poses I believe a danger to court personnel and to the public at large. But I'll be happy to try to answer any of the questions regarding the topics that we highlighted within this two-page report.

>> judge, you mentioned that last time you were here that we had adopted the space plan in 2002. Did we address anything in that plan about the civil courthouse or another courthouse? Did we address that in there? I don't remember now what all in there.

>> Commissioner, I believe as I recall, there were two -- there were two refuse references within the master plan of the '02 version 1 study. And both of them mentioned the need for a courthouse of greater square footage than we currently have.

>> okay. I'll just need to refresh my memory and go back and reread that. Since I worked on that space committee for several years. So we kind of have something to fall back on then to try to see -- so that if we move forward and we get a group to work on this issue, then we have something that they can refer back to. And get going. Okay.

>> and judge, of the 30-plus courts that we are expected to need by 2040, approximately how many of those courts do you think would be predominantly family law?


>> as many as two-thirds, Commissioner. What we see in studying over the last 30 years is that the blend of cases has changed over that 30-year period. Back in 77, '80's, during the dark period of the rtc and the flic and the bust, we were dominated by real estate, commercial lending cases, a lot of complex civil type of cases. Given the last 12 years of vigorous tort reform in the legislature and with decisions out of the supreme court, a lot of personal injury, med mal, class actions, insurance, have declined. Interestingly in some regard, the divorce rate has gone down because the marriage rate is going down. But we've seen no diminution in a category we call the other family cases because people still have children and a certain portion of those neglect their children, a certain portion of them don't support them as is necessary, and a certain portion of them cannot agree to the visitation and educational and psychological and health issues type of thing. So at least for the near future as we did this regression analysis, as mike did the regression analysis, we see that other families, cps, will grow. Currently of the 10 district judges, five of us are assigned to the family area, which is -- we've done that this year in recognition of the change of the blend of the kinds of cases we have.

>> and of these -- I pull out family law cases because I'm wondering since we do -- we probably will have a limited amount of space for our downtown campus and there will be competition for that space. What I'm looking toward is do you think that the family law category or any other category of these courts would be appropriate for consideration of another campus besides the downtown campus? I'm mindful that there's a huge centuries long investment both by government and the private sector in courts and ancillary businesses to the courts being downtown. So I tread lightly in this area. But would family law courts be a candidate for a campus, say, on south congress? This isn't to say that we don't need additional space in the downtown area? I'm committed to having a civil and criminal justice presence here.

>> so is this a trick question?

>> no, it's not.

>> [ laughter ] it's not a trick question. What I'm trying to flesh out -- and pranz this isn't the moment.

>> I understand what you're asking.

>> we're likely to have probably three distinct county government campuses in Travis County.

>> I think that there is a reasonable possibility -- the idea is attractive that if you had a high volume justice center -- I mean, currently we have the juvenile campus and judge murr, and with the problems going on on tyc, it may be growing greater than we really want it to. But interestingly enough, there's coincidence of interest in cases that involve like child protective services because you'll find some cross-integration between cps cases, juvenile cases, child support cases. And I have thought that we can develop almost like -- I call it a high volume justice center because there you're depending on a lot of traffic. It's daily. You're using it morning and night. And it would be constructed a little bit, I think, differently or have design requirements that are different than what you typically think of in a more reserved courthouse. But I think we -- the community, have a place where you can have luxuries like parking which are not available in the central business district.

>> [one moment, please, for change in captioners]

>> move that we approve the preliminary report on civil courts' needs, authorize the use of this as we educate our public about as we are entertaining a new civil courts building. That's the purpose I think. I think this is a good start. A lot of the stuff we know because we enter the building periodically and see the problems, but this is an effort to put together an objective list of deficiencies that should be observable by those willing to use a little arithmetic or

>> [indiscernible] view the situation.

>> yes.

>> seconded by Commissioner Daugherty. Any discussion of that one? All in favor? Show Commissioner -- a unanimous court. Thank you, judge, that brings us to b.

>> yes, sir, the second item is really the first step to start planning in earnest on a -- for civil courts. The item calls for an appointment of a steering committee or an internal working group is really what it is. In you turn to tab b in your backup you will find a document that starts the charge of the committee and the members of the committee. The charge is very broad and simple. The committee would be charged with overseeing planning and development of civil court facilities for Travis County, creating a collaborative process that encourages participation from a broad spectrum of the community, of community interests and professional expertise in the development of an organized urban complex for the administration of justice. One of the things that you have in this area is you already have the -- the criminal justice center, you have the he man marion sweatt court, so it is -- it will become with another civil court become the nexus of administration of justice in this county. Becomes a complex, really. And then the last charge is reporting back to the Commissioners court so its findings, recommendations of time line concerning the construction of future court facilities, costs, community input and actions required to address the future space requirement -- refresh my memories of civil courts in Travis County. Requirements of civil courts in Travis County. There are two components on this internal working group. The first is the executive committee and the recommendation for that, that it should be made up of the administrative district judge for Travis County civil courts. One county court at law judge, then two members of the Commissioners court. And then you have an advisory group with representatives of the Austin bar, the district clerk, the -- the county clerk, planning and budget office, facilities management and administrative operations, purchasing office and the Travis County auditor's office. The reason that we separated it into an executive and advisory group is for the need to just a quick turn around in having the executive committee set the agenda and being accident have a quick turn -- being able to have a quick turn around for issues on the Commissioners court. How about having somebody from the heritage preservation field?

>> I think one of the -- I had heard the comments of a need to be -- to have committee participation and as we know this will be a landmark building. You absolutely need to have legal community that historical community the preservationists, environmentalists and downtown urban planning. So what -- what you see here is just the beginning of -- of an internal working group. At some point in time, yes, I think that it would be promote or at the court's pleasure to bring in the community. Because it's not only the historical preservation, it's also neighborhood associations. It is -- it is parks, the people that are working with wooldridge park, it is -- it is linking with the state of Texas and what they are doing, what they are looking at in terms of the cbc, so there's other groups and I think all we're saying here is if we get the internal working group, then we can add on to this group at the appropriate time.

>> also it appears to me from the three bullets under the tasks that -- that the first bullet really needs to be looked at by the executive committee and the user group and it's really at the second bullet that we start bringing in the heritage society and the other groups in order to broaden out the focus from what the user group needs to how those needs could be integrated into the community.

>> yeah.

>> exactly.

>> I think what will make me feel comfortable, too is on that first bullet, the overseeing planning and development, I think we need to allow ourselves some freedom to think outside of the box here as well, so that we cannot leave anything out, simply because, you know, we are limiting ourselves to -- to the -- to the downtown area. Maybe if it's -- if we talked a little bit before about even 10 minutes away from downtown, you know, might be a good place where, you know, we would have sufficient parking, which is the biggest challenge actually. Then if you want to have the public to come into the downtown area to use this facility, then we need to especially consider where we are going to let them park. If anywhere, they would probably need to if they are going to come use the facility. And so to me that's 10 minutes away from the downtown area makes a lot of sense. So I don't -- I didn't want us to limit ourselves as long as we think -- have enough flexibility to think outside the box.

>> so appointment of steering committee. Recommended to be on the steering committee are the executive committee and an advisory group that will be appointed at volunteered.

>> okay.

>> the executive committee, you say one administrative district judge, one county court at law judge, two members of the Commissioners...

>> do we plan to put names to this next week and have it be back on?

>> or now, judge.

>> I don't know if that in court exercise helps anybody. Especially one that's we don't necessarily like.

>> [laughter] maybe we ought to just -- let's discuss this in private o.

>> charge -- the charge at the top up here. Any comments and response to the recommended charge? The two paragraph charge. Move --

>> the two paragraph charge?

>> it's at the top.

>> three bullets of the charge. It seems to be broad enough. Move that we give approval to the charge. Discussion? All in favor? That passes by unanimous vote. We spend a little time on that steering committee and the executive committee next week.

>> yes.

>> we have the district court county court at law. How much time do we think this might take? About...

>> the intention that is the Commissioners court would delegate some -- some authority to the executive committee. To make immediate decisions when posting is inappropriate. Right?

>> the purpose of the executive committee really is to -- a smaller group than the court to act immediately thereafter posting those decisions for ratification by the involve contract money --

>> yes.

>> lisa I heard you explain it that way yesterday. It should not be language. I thought that I was...

>> ...other court members.

>> yes, sir.

>> okay.

>> roger, did you come up

>> oh, I'm sorry. I thought you

>> [laughter]

>> the same as --

>> okay. We will have the steering committee and the other part of the -- the executive committee part of b back. C is authorization to negotiate with broaddus taking a look at the current building with the use of technology, security, a.d.a. Requirements, all of those issues that would go into a planning phase that will determine then what the needs are and therefore start developing the space needs and the costing for what it is that you are going to build.

>> they would work with the steering committee on the executive committee, also.

>> yes.

>> questions?

>> budget for this is part of the money that we have -- we have set aside for planning for the civil courts building?

>> yes, sir, we still have some money left there.

>> move approval.

>> second.

>> and basically that's for the -- for staff to negotiate with -- with broaddus for a contract to cover the next phase of the work.

>> yes, sir.

>> discussion? All in favor? That passes by unanimous vote.

>> thank you all.

>> judge, any -- any additional --

>> I want to thank you all very much. This has been a -- hopefully this is the first step of a long journey and I thank you all.

>> thank you. Appreciate it. Thank y'all, staff.

The Closed Caption log for this Commissioners Court agenda item is provided by Travis County Internet Services. Since this file is derived from the Closed Captions created during live cablecasts, there are occasional spelling and grammatical errors. This Closed Caption log is not an official record the Commissioners Court Meeting and cannot be relied on for official purposes. For official records please contact the County Clerk at (512) 854-4722.

Last Modified: Tuesday, April 3, 2007, 9:34 PM