Lack of vision, shortsightedness contributed to fateful 1963 decision to demolish Old Courthouse

BY ROBERT MORALES

Editor’s Note: The Van Horn Advocate wanted to know why the Old Courthouse was demolished in 1967. What factors did county commissioners take into consideration? Did anyone benefit from entering into a contract for a new courthouse that looks like a small hospital or a nursing home? We’ve included all the stories that the Advocate covered in 1963, 1964 and 1967 related to the demise of that beautiful, old structure. One can only read between the lines, but it appears from the news accounts that even the-then Advocate editor sided with the commissioners. You, the reader, can make that determination.

May 16, 1963, Van Horn Advocate

Commissioners Eye New Court House, Jail
Commissioners gave new consideration to planned Court House and Jail Improvements at its regular meeting Monday morning.

At the last Court meeting, the Commissioners had tentatively agreed to proceed with plans to remodel the Court House and build a new jail. In the meantime, they decided to get other bids and recommendations.

Remodeling Costs More
A Midland firm surveyed the building then reported to the Court that it would cost an estimated $150,000 to build a new jail and to remodel the old Courthouse, but would still have an unsatisfactory 51-year-old building. On the other hand, the engineering firm stated that it could build a new Courthouse Building and new jail for $123,000.

Old Building Problem
So the commissioners are now leaning toward prospect of building new buildings. But coming into consideration now, is what to do with the old building. If left it will probably become an even more unsightly eyesore, probably bring about frequent repair costs, and a new site would have to be acquired. On the other hand, some people do not want the old building torn down and if it is there would be the extra dismantling costs, and need of office facilities while being dismantled and a new building constructed.

In order to get further information, the Court has asked the Midland firm to have representatives here for a special meeting of the Court on May 27. In the meantime, the Commissioners were going to “feel out the people” in their precincts about the proposed project.
May 30, 1963, Van Horn Advocate
New County Courthouse and Jail to be Built

In a special meeting with architects last Monday, the Culberson County Commissioners agreed to build and entirely new Courthouse and jail.

Conferring with Petter York and Homer Pace, architects from two different Midland firms, Commissioners studied and compared cost estimates of a new building vs. remodeling  the old one, dismantling of the old building and obtaining a new site, or using the present land and renting office space during construction; or simply enough major repars to get buy on for a while longer.

Compare Costs
According to the architects, a new courthouse and jail can be built for $120,000 to $125,000. Estimates of complete remodeling of the resent courthouse and a new jail ran as high as $150,000. Minor remodeling and repairs to put the old building in more useable condition, figured up to $35,000 or more.

After the study, Commissioners A.L. Parker, Jimmie Snyder and Ross Mitchell indicated they were in favor of building a new building a new building. Commissioner J.B. Foster was in favor of remodeling and preserving the old structure, possibly tearing off the top story and adding it on to the lower structure.

But after reviewing the cost comparisons, and going into the type of construction of the new, etc., all the Commissioners came to agreement. The motion by Mitchell, seconded by Snyder to build a new courthouse and jail, was passed unamimously by the Commissioners.

Hire Architect
After talking to the architects, the Commissioners again unanimously agreed to hire Pace of Pierce, Norris and Pace of Midland as the standard fee of 7 per cent of the construction costs. A contract is scheduled to be signed with the architect at the regular June 10 meeting when he will return with the first preliminary sketches and plans. The Commissioners’ urged, completion of plans and beginning of construction as soon as possible.

Plan is to build an 8,000 square feet, one-story structure of special construction brick and steel at a cost of approximately $11 per square foot, plus 1,000 square feet of jail space at about $9.50 per square foot plus jail equipment, for an overall cost of $120,000. Estimate for having the old building dismantled was from $5,000 to $7,000.

Financing
The plan is to finance the project through the Permanent Improvement Fund and time warrants without any increase in taxes. The Permanent Improvement Fund now has a $45,000 balance, with 15c of each tax dollar pegged, for the fund. The balance of approximately $75,000 or more will be paid through the issuance of time warrents [sic] which will bear 4 to 4 ½ per cent interest, which later could be reduced to 3 ½ to 4 per cent. Payoff would be from 7 to 10 years depending on how much is issued and the tax income condition of the County.

It was definitely decided to dismantle the present Courthouse building. It was first decided to rebuild on the present site, but office space needs and costs during dismantling and construction posed a problem. So the present plan to obtain a new site, continue using the old building during construction and then after the move to dismantle the old building and sell the land.
Aug. 22, 1963, Van Horn Advocate
County Authorizes $110,00 Time Warrant Issue

With the apparent approval of the citizens of Culberson County, the Commissioners’ Court has given the go ahead signal with the authorization to issue $110,000 in time warrants pegged for the construction of a new Culberson County Courthouse and jail.

Plans for the new project and the means of financing have been known and in the making for over two months. Last month, the Court issued a notice of intention to issue the time warrants for the purpose of constructing the courthouse and jail.

Then at a special called meeting last Friday, the Court found that no protest petition had been submitted within the prescribed time period, thus giving the Court undisputed permission to issue the warrants to finance the proposed project.

On motion of Commissioner Jimmie Snyder and seconded by A.L. Parker, the Court unanimously agreed to pass the order authorizing the issuance of $110,000 in time warrants and the necessary tax fund changes to set up the retirement schedule.

The warrants will be amortized over a 15 year retirement schedule and will bear interest at the rate of 4 ½ per cent. The warrents [sic] will be paid off without any increases in taxes. The current .15 per $100 valuation now allotted to the Permanent Improvement Fund , will be broken down to .07 in the Permanent Improvement Fund to retire the principal and .08 in a new Interest and Sinking Fund to handle the interest. Thus the overall county tax rate remains the same — .95 per $100 valuation.

The preliminary plans for the courthouse and jail have already been drawn and Homer Pace of Midland has been hired as architect. The overall estimated cost of the project is $161,527,000 which includes $95,107 for the courthouse and $49,270 for the jail; $10,150 architect fee, $4,000 bonding company fee and $3,000 for land.

The one-story 9,900 square foot structure, to be built of special construction brick and steel, will be located on the half block east of Highway 54, between Second and Third Streets, on land already purchased from J.A. Terrell.

The $110,000 in time warrants will be added to $45,000 already in the Permanent Improvement Fund, plus anticipated income to the fund this year, to meet the costs requirements. Construction is expected to start as soon as the warrants are issued and plans readied.
Budget Approved
Also at the special meeting, the Court held a public session for consideration of the proposed budget for 1964. The tentative budget as prepared by County Judge Ray Landreth totaled $375,000. However, with the approval of the Courthouse and Jail warrant issue, the costs added to next year’s budget was $156,773.33. Final approval of the 1964 budget totaling $531,773.00 was then approved by the Court.