Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Jury Assembly Room, We Hardly Knew Ye

I was kind of surprised to read that the powers that be in Harris County have already decided that the (relatively new) Harris County Jury Assembly Room cannot be salvaged.

Don't get me wrong, I had no doubt that the building got severely damaged in the flooding from Hurricane Harvey.  The geniuses that decided to put a major facility underground in an area that flooded during Tropical Storm Allison basically drew up the plans for the State's largest in-ground jacuzzi. 

I'm not surprised at all to learn that the building is a total loss.  I'm just surprised that Harris County is acknowledging the building's lack of salvageability so quickly -- throwing away a 6-year-old structure that cost $13 million is a bitter pill to swallow. 

My hope is that while the County is in such an "admitting-we-screwed-up" mood, they might turn their attention to the embattled Harris County Criminal Justice Center.   Under optimal conditions, the building is terrible -- narrow hallways leading to elevators that sporadically work.  No escalators or public stairwells.  It was shut down for a year after Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 after only being occupied since November 1999.  

But the damage to the building from Allison appears to be nothing compared to what happened in the CJC during Harvey.  Not only did it flood, apparently there was some mechanism in place that caused pipes to supercool quickly and subsequently burst, leaving raw sewage throughout the building across multiple floors.  

Now, I'm not an architect or builder.  Maybe there is some reason why buildings need mechanisms to supercool things.  I don't know what that reason might be, unless it is to freeze Rebel Scum in carbonite before having Boba Fett transport them to Jabba the Hutt.

Whatever the reason, the CJC is now, literally, a shit show.  And it's been a shit show since the day it was opened.

It's time to start over.  Harris County should take some notes from the Ft. Bend Criminal Justice Center and create a shorter and wider courthouse that is more conducive to having escalators and stairways for people to reach the courts.  The elevator system at Harris County CJC is grossly inefficient and dangerous.  Angry (and sometimes violent) people are scrambling into small places to make it to court on time.  It is truly astounding to me that no one has ever been beaten to death one morning.  

The CJC needs to be completely scrapped and started over.  Demolish the damn thing and spread the new construction across the site of 1201 Franklin and 1301 Franklin (the old jail).  Hell, if you hold a $100-a-ticket raffle for attorneys to see who gets to press the demolition button on the CJC, you might be able to pay for the whole thing outright.  There is nobody that comes into that building, from prosecutor to judge to defendant, that doesn't hate it.  

If Harris County can justify scrapping the Jury Assembly Room after six years, then there is no excuse for not razing that 18-year-old hell hole of the CJC.


Tom Zakes said...

Ok, let’s do the math.

38 courts, two blocks. At 8 courts per floor, that’s 5 floors, without any space for DA offices, Public Defenders offices, cafeteria, grand jury, clerk’s office, etc.

But whatever you do, don’t look at how often the escalators in the Civil Courthouse are out.

Btw, I was in Fort Bend yesterday. They are already adding on.

Paul Mewis said...

how about the jail on the block where the jury assymble room was....the crossovers in the air to each a misdemeanor courts building on the block of the family law center...keep juve a shorter felony criminal courts building on the block where it stands....and keep the courts da staff next to the courts they handle

Corey Gomel said...

But how will the judges ever get to see the Astros game if the building is short and wide? Loved the fact that we had defendants lined up around that building to get in, lined up at the metal detectors to get in, lined up at the elevators to get up to the floor their court was on and Judges ready to forfeit their bonds if they all don't show up on time.

Anonymous said...

It is well known that the Harris County Commissioners are penny-pinching misers, however, which rocket scientist designed a subterranean building, 2 blocks from the bayou, in a town known as the Bayou City?

Anonymous said...

If memory serves the Dallas County Courthouse is spread over a couple blocks and is only 6 or so floors. Here in Hays County we have a new lo-rise courthouse also -- but we only need room for a few courts and a place to bring our eggs to market. Eric M.

Anonymous said...

A good idea in theory but it overlooks two obstacles.

1) getting the commissioners to agree to pay for it; and

2) how the wheels of justice going to keep turning during the eight years or so of planning, environmental impact studies, competitive bidding, political kickbacks, etc, etc., that would ensue?

Tom said...

Two things.
First, the reason the CJC doesn't have escalators is the footprint of the building is too small. The escalators would have to be too steep. Of course, nobody thought about that when the building was desgned and the county courts would have to be on the first few floors.
Second, the guy who designed the underground jury assembly room is the same guy who put the UH law library underground. Remember,that flooded too and all of the irreplacible rare books st at the bottom for weeks.

Host Committee said...

Just my opinion here, but I think commissioners court and their favorite architects did a mighty fine job of developing a Modern urban courthouse complex. Specifically, Mid-Century Modern. Those narrow hallways and divided rooms do a wonderful job of fostering intimacy while giving the impression of standing in one portion of a much larger home. Shows well with updated recessed lighting.

Anonymous said...

The building might not have been great, but it was ruined by the judges requiring thousands of people to come in every day for nothing but a reset. Until they fix their BS policies, the commissioners are unlikely to pay for anything for them. Same goes for family courts. Heard it from more than one commissioner directly.

Anonymous said...


Speaking of CJC changes, I saw Bill Exley using a swipe card to use the freight elevator in the civil building.

I have the FCV badge, but do you have any idea where we can get one of those?