Hays County Chief Juvenile Corrections Officer Ed Cooper at the June 16 Hays County Commissioners Court meeting. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
Though most of the county’s major building projects have been put on the back-burner pending a comprehensive review of its criminal justice system, the county may soon have a new building for the juvenile probation department.
County commissioners Tuesday voted unanimously to award ILCOR a contract to build a General Education (GED) Building housing classrooms and additional juvenile detention-related offices.
Construction of the GED Building is estimated to cost $162,000. Additional costs may include $8,000-$10,000 in architect fees, less than $5,000 in permitting fees and as much as $15,000 for a drainage study that might be mandated by the City of San Marcos. Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe (D-San Marcos) may succeed in getting some fees associated with a drainage study waived or reduced.
Commissioners allocated $75,000 from the county’s general fund for construction of the GED Building, for which $122,000 has already been budgeted. Before commissioners voted on his motion to amend the budget accordingly and award the building contract, Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle) asked that the official record reflect the expectation that the county’s general fund will be reimbursed next year with money generated from the juvenile justice program.
The GED Building will service juvenile offenders and other eligible residents. Barton said more residents with GEDs will translate into “very concrete financial benefits” for the county, “as well as … more hard-to-define community benefits” because a more educated populace is less likely to strain a county jail that the State of Texas recently deemed to be in noncompliance with state-mandated jail standards.
Broaddus and Associates is coordinating with county justice officials to choose a consultant to assess the county’s jail needs. The consultant, who may be chosen by June 30, will also analyze the county’s justice system and recommend optimizing measures.
Said Barton, “The question is, ‘Can we improve the coordination between our clerks and our district attorney and the judges and the commissioners court and our probation departments — can we foster a whole culture and atmosphere that really percolates up, find ways to … make the community safer and, at the same time, divert people out of our jail stream through innovative, creative programs — not fuzzy-headed programs, but programs that are proven to work elsewhere?'”
Broaddus and Associates will use data from the consultant’s analysis to make recommendations regarding county facility needs, especially those relating to the jail and the future county government center. In addition to safety violations, the current jail is too small to house the number of people imprisoned by Hays County.
Multiple county officials have said most county offices are overcrowded. Commissioners recently discussed options ranging from a renovation of the existing jail and relocation of most county offices to the government center, to the construction of an additional complex of buildings to include a new jail and most justice system-related offices.
The stakeholder group that will work with Broaddus and Associates to choose the consultant will include the district attorney, the sheriff, county court at law judges, district judges, adult probation officials, juvenile probation officials, the district clerk and the county clerk. A second tier group to be included in later discussions after a consultant is hired may include a representative chosen by the constables, a representative chosen by the justices of the peace, and officials from other government entities that use the county’s jail.
There is no official timeline in place yet, though Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley) said Wednesday that a major decision should be reached two to four months from now. All commissioners have said the county’s facility needs require urgent attention.
“We desperately need more space,” said Hays County District Attorney Sherri Tibbe Wednesday in an email. “We have filing cabinets and boxes in hallways and no more room for any additional personnel. Our office personnel are spread out in 3 different buildings, making it difficult to communicate at times. The justice center was outdated a long time ago and new space is long overdue.”
Texas Commission on Jail Standards Executive Director Adan Munoz recently said conditions at the existing jail necessitate the building of a new one.
When the county purchased its Wonder World Drive location for a new government center, the seller, W.C. Carson, agreed to provide an additional four acres for free and another five for half of the appraised value, but only if the center is up by February 2011.
Sumter recently said the existence of the government center may drive up by 600 to 800 percent the value of additional land Carson owns near the facility’s proposed location. The government center would constitute the largest building ever constructed by Hays County.Email | Print