ROCKWALL, TX (Oct. 4, 2022) Several citizens have recently asked if I would provide an update on the various construction projects on-going and planned for Rockwall County.
When the “new” courthouse was in the planning stages, way back when, the objective was for that building in the future to contain nothing but judicial type activities. This would include up to eight fully functional identical court rooms, the District Attorney’s office, the District Clerk’s office, and depending on growth, the County Clerk’s office. All other functions of the county government would be contained in the “old” Courthouse, a new Annex building to be built in the land adjacent to the “new” Courthouse and library, the jail, and the current maintenance facility (Whitmore Building).
Currently there are four courtrooms in the new Courthouse. Plans are proceeding to add two additional identical court rooms on the third floor of the building. Architects will be selected on October 23 and work on the new rooms should start early next year. Funds for this construction have been allocated.
Major construction is nearing completion on the new jail addition. If you will remember, this construction bond was approved by the voters in the amount of $50,270,000. To date the construction is under budget by $1,668,198. Completion date for all work is November 30 of this year.
The new jail portion is currently housing inmates. Total beds in the facility went from 243 to 444; a construction cost of slightly over $250,000 a bed.
Plans for the building of the Annex, which will complete the initial vision for the County facilities, is moving forward. Currently an RFQ (Request for Quote) is in the process of being prepared. An overall project manager firm is currently under contract. Completion of the building will be in approximately 18 months. Total cost is estimated to be $24 million. Funds are available and earmarked for this new construction.
Some other interesting information about our county that probably most of us don’t know:
Rockwall County was created in 1873 as the panhandle of Kaufman County was cut off to create our county. At that time, the first courthouse was established using an existing frame house at the Southeast corner of the Square. It burned down in 1875. A second was built again on the square and it burned down in 1891.
The third interim courthouse was the second floor of Lovejoy Hall which had been built in 1885. The fourth courthouse was built of stone in 1892 and it lasted until 1938 when it was demolished and once again the court moved to Lovejoy Hall and it became our 5th Courthouse. Of interest during this time was an election in April of 1892 to change the county seat to Fate. This was defeated by a vote of 372 For and 760 Against.
The 6th courthouse was a WPA project constructed in 1940. The jail was placed on top of the courthouse and until 1960, no air conditioning. This courthouse is in the middle of the square and is now referred to as the “old” courthouse.
The 1980-1990’s created all sorts of growth problems. The courthouse was not large enough to house the various offices; the jail failed to pass the State Jail requirements; and then the US Congress passed the ADA (Anti-Discrimination Act). Immediately the existing courthouse did not comply with the new law.
A grace period of about three years was given for the county to comply with the new law. The members of the Commissioners Court were also advised that each of them would be held personally liable for non-conformance with the ADA . This caused an immediate purchase in 1994 of the Cameron Building (1101 Ridge Road ) as an interim courthouse; this being the 7th courthouse in the county history.
It quickly became apparent that this solution was not a good one: prisoners and public intermixed in the hallways, only space for one District Court, etc. The State after multiple warnings judged this intern courthouse to be a dangerous work environment and the Commissioners Court decided it was time to get an actual courthouse and supporting building for the future growth of the county.
Elections in 2004 and 2005 proposed to the voters the building of a new Government Center complex. Both failed.
Unfortunately, the Courthouse that was the Cameron Building did not comply with the State Fire Code and the county faced the threat of shutting down our courts until the county could show an immediate remedy.
As a result ~
In 2007 the Commissioners Court, by a 3 to 2 vote, elected to build a new courthouse using Tax Anticipation Notes.
Our 8th Courthouse, now referred to as the “new” courthouse, was built and opened to service on 11/11/11. It will meet our requirements going forward for many years.*
*Much of this historical information provided by Jerry Wimpee, former Commissioner.
Submitted Letter to the Editor/Guest Column contributed by Jerry Hogan, a former Rockwall County Judge. He can be reached at email@example.com or 214-394-4033.
Views expressed in Letters to the Editor are the opinion of sourced authors.
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