EDINBURG The Hidalgo County Courthouse Master Plan Committee held its first meeting Tuesday to discuss future plans for the existing Hidalgo County Courthouse.

The committee was created by Hidalgo County Commissioners' Court to serve in an advisory capacity and resource group between the stakeholders and constituents of Hidalgo County and the Courthouse Master Plan consulting team, ERO Architects, led by Eli R. Ochoa, PE, AIA.

To meet the growing requirements of the County and to address the structural needs in the existing Courthouse, earlier this year Hidalgo County approved the development of a Courthouse Master Plan to help guide Hidalgo County leaders on how best to allocate resources, identify future needs, examine current assessment and project anticipated actions. Having a Master Plan in place will support the coordinated growth of the judicial and administrative facilities and functions.

Originally constructed in 1954, with annexes and additions in 1968, 1978, and 2008, the 101,000 sq. ft. Courthouse's primary use is for judicial system operations. The Courthouse is currently utilized and home to the Hidalgo County District Attorney, Hidalgo County Clerk, Hidalgo County District Clerk, six County Courts, nine District Courts, one Master Court, Indigent Defense Office, and Law Library, among others.

The 28-member committee is comprised of county officials and community representatives appointed by Commissioners' Court. The overall objective of the committee is to identify and discuss future needs and proposed plans for the Hidalgo County Courthouse. Today's meeting brought the entire committee together for the first time to educate members all on the current issues facing the existing Courthouse, as well as to begin discussions and develop a timeline for future meetings.

At the meeting, County Judge Ramon Garcia recommended that the committee be charged with several initiatives to help guide the Courthouse Master Plan, including: serving as an information resource to the ERO Architects Master Plan Team on Hidalgo County courthouse related issues; reviewing and providing master plan content and information; verifying that the master plan addresses the specific needs and priorities of the stakeholders and taxpayers of the County; reviewing recommendations of the ERO Architects Master Plan Team for implementation of the design, construction and financing of a new County Courthouse; and assisting with public involvement of the master plan process.

"We are extremely fortunate to have such a diverse group of community representatives and County officials on board to lead us through the development of the master plan," commented Judge Ramon Garcia. "Everyone brings a unique perspective to the planning process, and Commissioners' Court will listen carefully to the recommendations made by the committee as we move forward," Garcia continued.

The committee will meet monthly over the next three months to further contribute to the plan as it is developed. The next scheduled meeting is at 11:30 am on Monday, November 7, 2011 at the University of Texas-Pan American International Trade and Technology Building (1201 W. University Drive in Edinburg). All media and the public are invited to attend.