Commissioners weighing options on office space
Could a new courthouse be in county's future?
Kerry Craig | News-Telegram Assistant Editor

Jan. 24, 2006 -- Hopkins County officials are weighing the pros and cons of buying an existing building to house county offices or building a new facility for that purpose.

Since before the start of renovation of Hopkins County Courthouse, the county has leased office space from Sulphur Springs Independent School District. With the lease set to run out at the end of the year, county commissioners are scrambling to find office and storage space for the county clerk's office and possibly space for a number of other county offices.

"One of the alternatives we have to look at is Houston School and to renovate, not restore, it to fit the county needs," said Precinct 1 Commissioner Beth Wisenbaker. 

In a workshop meeting Tuesday morning, commissioners were meeting with Paris contracting firm Harrison, Walker and Harper to get an idea of what it might cost to renovate the building if the county were to purchase it from the school district.

Wisenbaker said the cost of renovation, along with a purchase price, must be under a certain amount.

"To me, you will hit a ceiling as to what you want to put into an older building," she said. "When you hit that ceiling, then you start looking at what a new building would cost because we do have the land adjacent to the jail, the perfect spot for a new building, but we want to do what is most financially effective for the taxpayers."

County commissioners previously considered but rejected a plan to renovate the old city library after projected renovation costs became prohibitive.

The commissioner said a new building would have a lot of positive factors the older structure does not have.

"One of those things that, to me, is a huge plus is you would be able to put all of county government down there, sell some of the older buildings and get them back on the tax rolls, plus we would be able to connect with the jail," she said.

Having a courts building located adjacent to the jail would mean a savings for the sheriff's department through a reduction in the number of deputies required to transport inmates to and from court.

Wisenbaker also said a new building would be more energy efficient.

With increasing attention focused on courthouse security, she said, a new building would be built with security measures in mind, rather than have to build security into an older building.

The commissioner stopped short of saying a new building would be the best route for the county to take.

"I won't say 'better' right at this moment because I don't know that it is better until I really look at the Houston School property," she said. 

Wisenbaker said commissioners need to know just how much money it would require to adapt the Houston School building to meet the county's needs.

"We would like to put an extra courtroom down there, the district attorney's office and possibly the county attorney, and to make it really effective, our juvenile and adult probation office. That's a lot of people to put on that campus," she said. "I want to see a dollar figure, and if we hit that ceiling like on the old library building, it doesn't make any sense to spend too much money for a building that probably won't serve us for maybe three to five years."

The county has been in talks with the school on the building for several months discussing how much the building would cost. The Houston School is listed on the tax roles as having a value of $850,000.

The starting price on the building was $750,000, according to Millsap, who said negotiations brought the price down to the current asking price of $550,000.

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