UPDATE: The Courthouse Master Plan Committee Meeting set for Monday, December 19, 2011 has been cancelled due to holiday schedule conflicts. The third Courthouse Master Plan Meeting will be Wednesday, January 18, 11:30 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. at the International Trade and Technology (ITT Building, UTPA), International Room, 1201 W. University Dr., Edinburg.

McALLEN – The Hidalgo County Courthouse Master Plan Committee will be meeting in McAllen on Monday, Dec. 19, to continue developing its recommendations for how to deal with serious overcrowding problems facing the almost 60-year-old, Edinburg-based county landmark.

The session, which is open to the public, will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. at the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, located at 1200 Ash.

Among the key issues being reviewed by the citizens advisory panel are two major elements, according to Eli Ochoa, P.E., AIA, the president and CEO of ERO Architects, which is preparing a comprehensive review and analysis of what to do with the courthouse.

The 30-member citizens advisory group - which includes Nelda Ramírez, interim executive director for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation - and ERO Architects were both selected by the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court earlier this year.

The Hidalgo County Courthouse Master Plan Committee has held its two previous public meetings - in October and in November - in the International Trade and Technology Building (IT2) at the University of Texas-Pan American.

The upcoming December 19 session, which will be the third of four planned public meetings, was originally set to be held at the IT2 Building on Monday, December 12, then was reset to Tuesday, December 13, at the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, before the Monday, December 19 meeting was finalized.

The final (fourth) meeting of the group with ERO Architects is tentatively set for Wednesday, January 18, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the IT2 Building.

According to ERO Architects, the existing courthouse site is approximately 4.74 acres located at 100 North Closner Blvd. The subject property consists of the main building with two additions, one annex structure, sally port, landscaped areas and parking lots.

The courthouse was originally constructed in 1954 and subsequently remodeled with additions added in 1968 and 1978. The main Courthouse building contains approximately 93,088 square feet of floor area. The annex is a single-story building containing approximately 8,000 square feet.

Other highlights of the November 7 meeting were provided by Karina Cardoza, Public Affairs Director for Hidalgo County.

Her account follows:

At the culmination of the inaugural meeting of the Courthouse Master Plan Committee held in October, members of the committee were charged with contributing their vision for an ideal courthouse facility that would encompass the current needs and projected growth anticipated in the next 10 years, as well as take into consideration all fundamental and desired elements of design, structure and function.

A similar task was assigned to the consultants facilitating the development of the master plan. Between the first and second meetings, they were to undertake a discovery analysis of each of the affected departments and offices currently housed within the courthouse to determine the current and future spatial requirements.

The appointed members of the Hidalgo County Courthouse Master Plan Committee met for the second time on Monday, November 7, to review the progress made since the inaugural meeting held in October. The committee itself grew from the original 28 to a total of 30 members, after it was determined that certain critical departments were necessary for inclusion.

Laurie Limbacher, a member of the planning consultant team, gave a historical overview on legislation and statutes governing the preservation and protection of courthouses under state law. Ultimately, the Texas Historical Commission must review and approve any proposed changes made to courthouse structures and grounds; any plan developed by the committee should be mindful of the Historical Commission's recommendations.

The consultant team (ERO Architects) discussed the discovery process used to garner information on the current courthouse use of space. The team met with individual departments and offices to determine what the anticipated need in square footage would be to safely and comfortably accommodate current demand and plan for the future. Based on the assessment, the total on-site square footage needed is approximately 244,694 square feet, a 133 percent increase from the current space at the courthouse.

The planning consultant team presented a compilation of visionary ideas submitted by the committee, who named elements such as a campus-like facility, design with extra floors for future use, energy-efficient building, and a design that remained true to the unique culture of the area. Also shared were key values or "pillars," based on committee member feedback, which will help drive the development of the master plan, and included a safe and secure environment, harmonious and open design and space, sensitivity to ecology, effective infrastructure, flexibility in design, durable, and low maintenance cost, among others.

"I am impressed with the dedication and effort that the entire committee is putting forth on this extremely important process," remarked Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García. "The committee's participation and input are critical towards the development of a master plan that will serve as a roadmap for the county to follow as it addresses the need for a new courthouse.

"It is our hope that at the end of this process, we will have a firm foundation upon which to develop a keystone landmark fitting for our county seat, a pillar of excellence that will propel our Hidalgo County community forward and last not 20 years, not 50 years, but to serve us for multiple generations to come," García added.