By Michelle Guffey
Killeen Daily Herald
BELTON "Out with the old and in with the new" is not the philosophy of Bell County officials.
Despite building a massive, gleaming, new district courts building out on Loop 121, county officials have no intention of letting the current district courts building in downtown Belton sit vacant, slowly falling victim to neglect.
Once the county takes possession of the new district courthouse in mid-May, the current building will get a much-needed extreme makeover, bringing it up to code and ready for occupation by the end of the year.
County officials' intent is to use the building for family law cases.
The fourth floor, currently home to three courtrooms, will be reconfigured. The current 27th District courtroom will stay the same, but the current 146th and 264th District courtrooms will be combined, and an area of it will be made a courtroom.
Child Protective Services Judge Charles Van Orden, who holds court across the street in the county courthouse on Mondays and Wednesdays, will use one of the fourth-floor courtrooms. The other will be used for child support cases.
"The fourth, third, and second floors will lose space due to elevator upgrades, expanded space for stairs and expansion for the bathrooms," County Judge Jon Burrows said.
The fourth floor also will have office space for two judges and for the county attorney staff.
Renovations will allow the sheriff to have space for investigators, conference rooms and training rooms. Some minor renovations such as kitchen upgrades will be made to the jail as well.
"In order to take care of the code issues, the interior of the building will need to be cleared out," Burrows said.
The current district courts building's elevators, stairs, restrooms and air handlers needed to be brought up to code by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation by Sept. 1, 2005. Failure to comply with these codes would have resulted in penalties up to $5,000 a day.
Under building codes, once officials start to fix one problem, they are required to fix them all.
"But when you try to renovate, you end up having less space because everything has to be bigger," Burrows said.
The courts building was built in 1964, and at the time, was compliant with all regulations for the 1960s. But requirements are different than they were 40 years ago.
For instance, the Americans with Disabilities Act was not passed into law until 15 years ago.
Air conditioning vents also will need to be updated, and the Mount Everest-like climb up the stairs from the third floor to the fourth floor will need to be addressed.
Funding for the renovations was part of the $27 million in limited tax notes that were approved by the commissioners two years ago to build the new district courts complex.
"The start of the renovations will happen fairly rapidly after we get people into the other building," Burrows said. "We will almost immediately start renovations."
The building's makeover will take about six months to complete.
Burrows said that the way the project has been laid out, there will be no downtime in government functions.
"Everything is done in stages," he said.
The week of May 22 the district court will not be in business in order to accommodate personnel moving and settling into the new district courts building.
The only office that will be open for business during that week will be the district clerk's office.
"Someone will be at the current site until everyone is moved," Burrows said. "The Tuesday after Memorial Day court will be open for business."
Contact Michelle Guffey at firstname.lastname@example.org