McLennan County to turn old county jail into additional courtroom space

Published: Aug. 9, 2023 at 6:24 PM CDT
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MCLENNAN COUNTY, Texas (KWTX) - McLennan County is running out of space at the courthouse to handle a backlog of court cases from the pandemic. But the county is working on putting new courtrooms in the old McLennan County Jail to help address that and some other issues.

The county is currently in the design phase, working with an architectural firm to finalize the plans. The parts of the building that used to house inmates are now completely gutted.

”We’ve taken it all the way back to the concrete, so it’s bare bones right now,” McLennan County judge Scott Felton said.

Judge Felton said once everything is said and done, the courtrooms inside the old jail, which is located in downtown Waco, will be two floors tall and extend all the way to the ceiling.

In the last couple of years the county has added two news courts: the 474th District Court and County Court at Law Three. But right now those courts are operating out of temporary spaces at the McLennan Law Library.

”We’ve had to kind of wedge them into different spaces to accommodate that,” Judge Felton said.

Judge Felton said the new justice center will have a permanent space for those courts and also address a backlog of both civil and criminal cases due to the pandemic.

”Adding these additional courts and courtrooms will help that and make it effective and safe,” he said.

Judge Felton estimates that the project will cost somewhere around $40 million. That’s still a lot cheaper than building a new justice center from the ground up, which would cost the county around $100 million.

The renovations are being funded through a combination of existing American Rescue Plan Act funds and the sale of county bonds. Judge Felton estimates that the project will be complete by 2026.