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Repair or replace?

Consider this an object lesson in the cost of deferring maintenance.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

A new Houston police headquarters and courthouse complex, discussed for decades, could reach a key turning point this week as Mayor Annise Parker seeks to force City Council members to choose between repairing the city’s existing facilities or tackling an enormous project to construct new buildings – a move that could trigger a tax increase.

If not for the staggering expense of both the “repair” and “replace” options – from $250 million up to $1.2 billion – the choice would be simple: Few, if any, council members question that the city’s criminal justice facilities are fading.

The current complex, on 18 acres just northwest of downtown, houses 1,000 Houston Police Department staff, the main municipal courthouse, a city jail and numerous other operations spread among a dozen buildings, most of them built between 1950 and 1980.

Officials say the facilities are decades beyond their useful lives, cramped, lack adequate parking and sit in the 100-year floodplain. A shoddy sewer line recently created a sinkhole under the courts building, and chunks of the police parking garage have been known to crumble off.

“If you’ve been in through 61 Riesner, it is dilapidated and you’re looking at hundreds of millions of dollars to keep putting Band-Aids on that serious problem over there,” said Ray Hunt, president of the Houston Police Officers’ Union, referring to the main police building on the site. “That complex needs to be leveled, and a new complex needs to be built there.”

The mayor’s decision to place the item up for a vote Wednesday as a non-binding resolution was spurred in part by a desire not to allocate more than the $2.3 million already spent preparing to build a new complex if council was not ultimately going to pursue the project.


Councilman Jerry Davis said his concerns about the proposed financing mechanisms have not been adequately addressed. He also said it makes more sense to relocate the complex to an underdeveloped area like his district, where it would spur development, rather than rebuilding on the edge of downtown.

“I don’t think you have everyone’s buy-in right now. There’s too much uncertainty,” Davis said. “Before this council member says yes or no, I need to exhaust every question.”

CM Davis’ suggestion may have some merit, especially if it means lower real estate costs. I don’t know what the logistical issues may be in having the justice complex not be as close to the county’s courthouses. Let’s put all the cards on the table and see what the options are and what they might cost. We know that doing nothing costs a lot more than nothing, so let’s see what the best way to fix that is, and let’s not freak out at it.

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One Comment

  1. joshua ben bullard says:

    replace for the love of god=have you seen the old police station downtown lately,we need a brand new center,period. joshua ben bullard