Harris County is unlikely to repair Hurricane Harvey flood damage to the six-year-old, $13 million jury Assembly Building that sits beneath a park in downtown Houston’s courthouse square near Buffalo Bayou, County Judge Ed Emmett said Tuesday.
While no official action has been taken, the county will likely find a replacement facility that is not underground, Emmett said after Tuesday’s county commissioners meeting.
“We’ll build another one somewhere, and I doubt if we’ll put it underground next time,” Emmett said. “That’s not my decision yet, but we don’t have basements in Houston for a reason.”
He characterized it as a “complete replacement of the Jury Assembly Building.”
“I don’t think there will be a re-do of that building,” he said.
When it was built in 2011, the architect said they reviewed 2001’s Tropical Storm Allison, which flooded the tunnels. They built the new jury center’s above-ground portion well above the historic high-water mark.
The above-ground part of the building is a glass structure the size of a bus covering an atrium staircase leading down to the auditoriums. The almost completely glass structure meant natural light poured into the subterranean facility.
To protect from rising floodwaters, the lower level and related tunnels were equipped with flood doors the size of cars.
The floodwaters of Hurricane Harvey went well over the underground building, apparently crashing out windows along the ground and flooding the building from the roof. It is still unclear if the massive submarine doors worked. If they did, they created a giant watertight bowl next to the bayou.
If we learned from TS Allison, then what happened here? If the answer is, “we just never anticipated a storm as big as Harvey”, then I guess this was an expensive lesson. Good luck figuring out what to do next. In the meantime, jury service is suspended through October 16.