Members of the county’s Bond Oversight Committee were taken on a tour of the new courts and administration building and the jail expansion this week.

The two projects, along with the city’s parking garage, remain on target both financially and schedule-wise.

The courts and administration building will encompass 102,000 square feet in four floors, while the jail expansion will initially serve up to 800 inmates.

Jones Lang Lasalle senior vice president of project development services Jon Vidaurri described the projects to the committee as “legacy” ones, meaning they have been planned and constructed to meet the needs at final build out for at least 50 years, if not 100 years.

The courts and administration building has space within for additional courtrooms to be finished out at a later date and its top floor – which is inset from the structure’s outer edge at this time – also can be expanded. At its final build out, the jail will meet a capacity of 1,800 inmates.

“This is all part of a master plan,” Vidaurri said. “This is planning for a legacy use of the site.”

These and other examples of how the buildings have been constructed to meet not only present needs but future ones were discussed throughout the tour by Vidaurri and Don Hansen, senior project manager for Balfour Beatty, the projects’ general contractor.

The two also detailed security measures within the structures, including an enclosed tunnel that will allow inmates to be moved from the jail to the courts. That tunnel is part of a system that basically establishes three traffic paths: one for the public, another for those in custody and one for county personnel, including the judges, their staff and prosecutors.

Doors will be secured via pass-cards on the structure’s second through fourth floors, with the second floor utilized for the grand jury, clerks’ offices and jury selection room. The third floor will house the courtrooms and law library and the fourth floor the county and district attorney’s office.

 The bottom floor, which is inset into the site, will be more open for public movement as it will house what Hanson described as the “retail” portion of county government, including such offices as public works and the tax department.

Among those on the tour was County Judge Carol Bush, who said she was pleased with the progress of the county projects, approved by voters in a $53.875 million bond in May 2007.

“I want to express my appreciation to those who have served so faithfully on the Bond Oversight Committee,” Bush said of the oversight committee, which is co-chaired by Roy Orr and Larry Burns and has representation from each of the county’s four precincts.

“Their diligence and direction have been invaluable and the collaborative efforts of everyone involved have contributed greatly to the overall success of our facilities project,” she said. “I believe Ellis County can have confidence in those we've entrusted with this major endeavor and the finished product will be a milestone in which we can take great pride,” she said.

During the tour, Vidaurri and Hanson detailed the various best practices being utilized on the projects, including state of the art software that coordinates the placement of wiring, plumbing, technology and ductwork. Additional cost savings have been found, they said, citing as example a decision to move the jail’s kitchen and laundry facilities into the expansion area as opposed to renovating them where they were, as was the original plan.

“Let’s spend our money once and do it right,” Vidaurri said, noting the move meant the kitchen and laundry have an optimal placement to meet future needs.

The jail has been constructed to allow for two additional floors to be added as needed, with Hanson saying the project stays in contact with the jail commission to ensure its requirements are being met.

About 300 workers are on site at this time, with the projects set for completion in May.

Bush said county officials go through the site on a regular basis as the construction continues.

“I couldn’t be more pleased with the level of professionalism and the integrity of the people we are working with, with Balfour Beatty and Jones Lang Lasalle (which is overseeing the work on the county’s behalf),” she said. “They’ve exceeded our expectations. You see the quality going into the construction and the thought behind what they are doing.”   

She also praised the work of county engineer Joe White, saying, “The county is blessed to have someone of his caliber working for it and handling these projects.”

Contact JoAnn at joann@wninews.com or 469-517-1452.