Starnes

Starnes

Cooke County officials want to move some offices around and create parking in downtown Gainesville.

The commissioners’ court agreed at a Monday work session to proceed with plans to move the county’s treasurer, assessor and state driver’s license branch into the empty Kress building across California Street from the courthouse. Those moves would be coordinated with minor renovations to the county’s Annex on the east side of the courthouse square to better accommodate the remaining offices.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Jason Snuggs and Precinct 4 Commissioner Leon Klement agreed to start the ground work to come up with specifications for the move, which would require some flooring replacement and minor interior renovations. Roof work is also a possibility. Once the specifications are in place, the project can be put out for bid to private contractors. No firm timeline or budget was set.

The county acquired the Kress Building in 2019, located across California Street from the courthouse, with the intent of moving offices in there. Moving the drivers license branch across the street would allow the county to clear that site for a new parking lot.

“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,” Cooke County Judge Steve Starnes told the Register last month. “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.”

Jail needs

The court also agreed to take a closer look at using some of the county’s $8 million in federal stimulus funding to expand the Cooke County Detention Center.

Sheriff Ray Sappington told commissioners last month that he has adequate jail space for now, but the recent burst of housing starts around Gainesville and the Valley View area is bringing more people to the county. He said that, in turn, will create more work for local law enforcement and demand for jail space.

The 212-bed facility handles 162 prisoners per day on average currently; however, Sappington said configuring the space to effectively segregate female prisoners actually limits overall capacity to around 190 beds.

Starnes picked up on that point during Monday’s work session. He and Precinct 1 Commissioner Gary Hollowell estimated new space could cost $375 or more per square foot, with Hollowell adding that another 48 or so beds could wind up costing in the neighborhood of $16 million.

“I personally think we’re going to need to expand that jail in the next five years … my heart leans toward that jail for some of the (federal) money,” Starnes said. “It’s not a cheap endeavor, but it’s one we’re going have to burden.”

As with the Kress Building renovations, no firm timeline or budget has been set for the jail expansion.

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