JEFFERSON — The Marion County Commissioners Court decided Monday not to entertain a quote, calling for conduit to be installed as part of the renovation project for the historic county courthouse.

The change order was one of five surprises brought to the court’s attention only 30 minutes prior to the start of the court’s Nov. 14 meeting. The proposed change orders in all were estimated to be $300,000 worth of work that had not been covered under a grant awarded by the Texas Historical Commission for the renovation project.

The court called a special-workshop last week to discuss the $95,000 quote from Eubanks Electric for the conduit to protect wires for data, computer and connections.

Pct. 1 Commissioner J.R. Ashley said while he was all for the conduit last week, a talk with project manager Kevin Scott, of JRJ Construction, has changed his mind.

“I went by last week to speak to Kevin. He showed me the prints, showed me the room and basically said it’s not required to (have) conduit because it’s low voltage,” said Ashley.

Scott told both Ashley and Pct. 4 Commissioner Charlie Treadwell that out of all the six courthouses he’s renovated, none of them ever ran their low voltage wires in a conduit.

“After six courthouses are not required and having that access panel up there by a junction box, I think we’re better off not to spend the $95,000 as I thought we should have last week,” said Ashley.

Treadwell expressed the same sentiments.

“I talked to Kevin the other day and I asked him how many county courthouses have gone this extra expense of this conduit. He said that he had worked on about six of them and none of them have gone to that expense,” said Treadwell. “So he discussed some options and talked about putting panels … two panels that will not be noticeable in each room of the courthouse that would allow you to have access to all the wiring.”

Treadwell said he also conferred with Dustin Eubanks of Eubanks Electric about possible issues without conduit.

“I asked him if we did this would there ever be any problem with pulling a wire if we had any problems, and he said he didn’t see where there would be any problem because we’d have so much access to the wire,” said Treadwell.

“So after hearing that information, I am not in favor of spending $95,000 for conduit,” the commissioner said.


Regarding another change order that was also unanticipated, the court decided to table their decision on a $21,975 quote from Firetrol Protections Systems for security access.

Pct. 2 Commissioner Joe McKnight, who expressed his opposition, last week about the high price tag, maintained his stance on the item, which will provide security access badges or key cards for employees to enter and exit the building.

“I don’t see where there’s any necessity on this,” McKnight said Monday. “I know it would be a convenience to where we would have a card to slide to open the doors and everything, but I’ve also talked to Kevin.

“We were talking about putting bumper bars on the doors. Whether the long ones or the short ones, up on the side or whatever…we’re actually going to accomplish the same thing,” said McKnight.

The commissioner said because of fire standards, they would have to have an exit at every door.

“This would give us an exit at every door,” said McKnight. “When you go out the door, when the door shuts, it will lock back. My opinion, that’s all we need to accomplish. I’m not in favor of the electronic (lock).”

Responding to a question from Commissioner Treadwell on whether or not there’s been trouble with the current security system, Sheriff David McKnight confirmed that some type of new system was needed.

“We need something. The old system we had before … we had (to) manually lock and unlock. We need something better than that,” the sheriff said.

He said if they put panic hardware, allowing them to exit from the inside then all would have to enter through the basement. Assuming county employees will have their ID cards, they can bypass the security screening.

“That’s the only thing we’ll have security wise,” the sheriff said. “Anybody that doesn’t have an ID card is going to have to go through the screening like everybody else.”

He explained that the trouble they had before involved people leaving the door unlocked after exiting from the inside, which compromised the security.

“So that will stop that problem,” the sheriff said of having some kind of automatic lock system.

“As long as we have something that the door will automatically lock when it (shuts), they can exit from the inside and then when the door shuts, it’ll lock,” he said.

Commissioner McKnight asked the project manager if he could see if the THC would approve short bumpers for the door.

“If we get that approved…when you go out the door, it locks back,” Commissioner McKnight said.

The commissioner said, to him, a locked door is a locked door.

“Whether you lock it manually or you lock it electronically; it’s a locked door,” he said. “That’s just as secure as you can make it.”

Commissioner McKnight said furthermore he doesn’t think it’s a bad idea for all courthouse traffic to enter and exit at the same point.

“That’s for security reasons,” he said.

McKnight made a motion to table the item, pending more information from the project manager. Treadwell seconded the motion.

County Judge Leward LaFleur made his stance on the issue known at last week’s workshop, saying he was for the electronic access to provide better security for employees and would pay for it out of his own pockets, if necessary.

“My argument is the world is changing and the way of things that we’ve been doing 25 years ago, you’d never think anybody would walk into the courthouse and kill anybody,” the judge said.

“Well, they’re doing it now,” LaFleur said, reflecting on incidents like the February 24, 2005, deadly shooting at the Smith County Courthouse in Tyler.

During that shooting, 43-year-old David Hernandez Arroyo shot his ex-wife and son outside of the courthouse and subsequently engaged police in a chase and shootout that ultimately killed him. Arroyo’s ex-wife, Maribel Estrada, and citizen, Mark Wilson, died from Arroyo’s actions.

The county judge said county employees, many whom are women, have to sit in the courthouse all day.

“I sit in that building all day and it may come to the point where I may pay for it out of my own pockets or try to raise some funds,” the judge said.

The proposal includes 15 wireless panic buttons, seven door access control modules, seven card readers, and 40 access control cards, to name a few.

The renovation of the downtown landmark, located at 102 West Austin St., is getting an overhaul made possible through a $4.7 million grant awarded last spring by the Texas Historical Commission’s Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program (THCPP) as well as $1 million of county money. Work on the project began in June.