A space squeeze has the Cooke County Commissioners’ Court thinking about some long term planning.
The county’s courthouse in downtown Gainesville is running out of room. The Texas Historic Landmark, built in 1911 and renovated in 2006, houses more county staff than ever thanks to the demands of serving a growing population and complying with state and federal programs.
To wit, Cooke County Auditor Shelly Atteberry recently added two staffers to handle state and federal grant administration, and her office is running out of room, according to County Judge Steve Starnes. On top of that, file cabinets are parked in hallways to free up office space – the same hallways that are packed with people when the county’s courts are in session.
Starnes and the commissioners are hosting public work sessions this month and next to look at options. The county acquired the Kress Building, located across California Street from the courthouse, earlier this year for $900,000 with the intent of moving offices in there. The building would require little renovation, he added.
The moves could also free up new parking space downtown, too.
“The biggest emphasis right this minute is how we go about migrating to that building and the effective utilization of the properties that will be abandoned,” Starnes told the Register. “We've been talking to the city about turning some of the abandoned properties into parking lots.
“For instance, if we moved juvenile probation (presently located at 215 S Commerce St.) into the Kress building, then that would be a half a block that could be turned into parking – as one of the biggest restraints that we have from downtown growing is the lack of parking.”
Even more parking could be created by moving the state’s Department of Public Safety office across California Street into the Kress Building as well, Starnes said.
Gainesville City Manager Barry Sullivan said the extra parking downtown would be very welcome.
“We (the city and county) are having discussions on what is the most advantageous way to help our downtown,” Sullivan said. “You can generally find two-hour parking, but that’s not what an employee needs, or a juror … business owners need long term parking.”
Planning to make a plan
However, nothing has been decided and the commissioners aren’t close to making up their minds. Some of the money needed to do the work could possibly come from the $8 million in federal stimulus money Cooke County is set to receive through next year, Starnes said.
The work sessions, held every other Monday at 10 a.m. around the regular commission meeting schedule, are part of the commissioners’ court’s intention to craft a long term plan that identifies building needs, possible future staffing requirements and the like.
“We want to put one together that identifies what steps we will be taking and what order, who will be responsible for overseeing it, what will be the timeline, what will be the cost? Where will the money come from?” said Starnes. “I mean, just like the strategic plan that staff Ron or any big corporate company would put together.
“… We want to be a little bit more structured, with a specific plan that we will share with the public – ‘Here's what we're planning to do, folks, for the next two years. These are the things that we hope to be able to move, change and improve. And this is the timeline for when we want to try to do it.’”