“This building wasn’t designed to be an office building,” Pct. 3 Commiss-ioner Heath Sims says. “It’s serviceable, but it needs a lot of (work).”
The building the commissioner speaks of is the Ellis County Sub-Courthouse in Waxahachie, located off of Interstate 35E at Brookside Road, and home to several county offices, including Justice of the Peace Pct. 2 Jackie Miller Jr., Pct. 2 Constable Terry Nay, Texas Cooperative Extension-Ellis County and the Texas Highway Patrol.
The sign out in front of the building is half-empty, its lower panel completely devoid of anything representing the building’s occupants.
A metal building and former catfish restaurant, its interior walls were erected by jail labor only after the county purchased it in the late 1980s.
The building has since become overcrowded and has a number of deficiencies, its occupants say.
“With the amount of cases that go through this court, this facility is not sufficient,” Pct. 2 Justice of the Peace Jackie Miller Jr. said, describing times during truancy hearings that a line dozens of people long fills the courtroom and hallway.
Such times also highlight the difficulties of securing the building, Pct. 2 Constable Terry Nay said, noting, “As constable, it is my responsibility to ensure the safety and security of this court, and with this building, it is impossible for me to do that.”
Numerous exits provide access points, and on days when long lines form, the situation prevents any type of control as to who is entering and exiting the building, Nay said.
“It’s a security nightmare from my aspect. We’ve done what we can with what we’ve got, but it wasn’t designed to be utilized for what its being utilized for,” he said. “There’s really no way to secure it.”
The sub-courthouse “is an embarrassment,” Miller said, adding that in his opinion, the facility is probably second in visibility only to the Ellis County Courthouse.
The court issue aside, Nay said the biggest problem about the facility is overcrowding and the issues that have resulted from trying to cope with that problem.
Walls erected to divide the building weren’t built to work with its air conditioning zones, and while the roof no longer leaks, condensation from the air conditioner’s pipes and ducts does, causing damage to the ceiling tiles and resulting in a mold problem.
“It’s black and it’s mold,” Nay said. “I don’t know if it’s the toxic black mold, but it’s toxic if you’re allergic to it.”
Circuit breakers trip frequently due to the load they sustain, Nay said, noting the overcrowding issue also is evident when the court needs a space for jurors to make a decision - they deliberate in the Extension Service’s conference room.
Nay points out that because the Extension Service and the Highway Patrol also regularly use the room, getting it can be problematic. At times the courtroom itself - after its occupants are cleared - has been called in to service as a deliberation room.
Another issue is the lack of storage space inside the building, which was addressed by the county obtaining a number of storage trailers that are kept behind the building.
“Some people may look at it and say ‘that’s the county being efficient,’ but it’s not being efficient if somebody has to come out here while it’s raining and the records get wet when they’re being taken inside,” Sims said, with Nay adding that there’s no way to properly secure what’s being stored.
“We just do the best we can with what we have available,” Nay said. “We make it work, it just doesn’t work real well.”
The sub-courthouse is not one of the facilities that would be replaced with funds from the county’s proposed bond package. However, when the Highway Patrol moves into its new facility being constructed off of U.S. Highway 287 Business, some of the overcrowding issues may be alleviated.
E-mail Anthony at Anthony.Trojan@waxahachiedailylight.com