With a newfound public interest in Harris County Commissioners Court meetings, which at times have been so crowded that would-be attendees have been turned away, court members plan to build a larger chamber.
Commissioners Court [asked] County Engineer John Blount to design a new chamber on the first floor of the county administration building at 1001 Preston. The current chamber, on the ninth floor, has a capacity of 90 people. Blount said a first-floor chamber could fit as many as 220.
“We have to get a better courtroom,” Blount said. “If people had to do it again, no one would ever put the highest-occupancy facility on the highest floor of the building.”
The new chamber would occupy the west half of the first floor, which currently houses some employees of the county tax assessor-collector’s office. The office’s customer service windows on the east half of the floor, where residents can pay taxes or register a vehicle, would remain the same.
Blount said the county could design the new chamber in four to six months and complete construction about a year after that. The work would not affect in-progress renovations on the first floor, which include the replacement of exterior windows and doors. Blount said estimating a cost to build a new chamber would be a “pure guess” at this stage,
“There’s not a lot of structural work. It’s pretty straightforward,” he said.
The Harris County Precinct 1 Constable’s office, which protects downtown county properties, said a first-floor courtroom would require fewer deputies, spokesman Kevin Quinn said.
Security staff have to perform extra work on the ninth floor, he said, because the metal detector checkpoint is between the court chamber and the elevators to overflow rooms.
“Every time people come back and forth, they have to be re-screened,” Quinn said.
Seems pretty reasonable to me. The existing space is overcrowded, inconvenient, and requires extra security personnel. The proposed new location will have adequate seating for everyone, will be easier for everyone to get to, will require less security presence, and will be inexpensive to construct. Go for it.