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At Ogg’s urging, Harris County delays courthouse repair decision

December 18, 2018

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg on Tuesday persuaded Commissioners Court to hold off approving $14 million in repairs to the flood-damaged criminal courthouse in downtown Houston.

Ogg said the county should spend more time evaluating whether to repair or replace the 20-floor tower before sinking more money into it. Commissioners were set to approve nearly $14 million to repair the building’s elevator shafts and remodel parts of floors two through 20.

“To spend $14 million right now puts us on a trajectory that really puts the cart before the horse,” Ogg said in a rare appearance before the court. “You deserve more information to make a reasoned choice about the direction to follow, ultimately.”

Extensive flooding to the courthouse at 1201 Franklin during Hurricane Harvey displaced hundreds of prosecutors, public defenders and courtroom staff to offices across the city. The diaspora has left Ogg and many of her staff at 500 Jefferson, more than a mile from the courthouse and county jail.

The top four floors of the courthouse have reopened, though the county’s criminal justice system still is trying to catch up from Harvey 16 months ago. Ogg said she worried that repairs to the building would force those reopened courtrooms to close again.

“Based on the evidence, I have a reasonable doubt. I think it will disrupt our functions,” Ogg said. “We can use those courtrooms now.”

County Engineer John Blount estimated the cost of repairing the building at $86 million. He said a new structure would cost $430 million and take four years to complete.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis said paying for a new building may require the county to persuade voters to approve a bond issue. They may be unlikely to do so after passing a $2.5 billion flood protection bond in August, which taxpayers will be paying off over the next decade to 15 years.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack proposed removing the repairs from Tuesday’s agenda, and his colleagues agreed. The move punts the thorny issue to the incoming court, which in January will include Democrats Lina Hidalgo as county judge and Adrian Garcia as Precinct 2 commissioner.

zach.despart@chron.com

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