Smith County officials are considering hiring a firm that would help the government plan projects, including duties related to a new courthouse.

Officials will consider a $20,000 contract Tuesday to retain the Dallas-area firm Project Advocates LLC for services that include researching a new courthouse.

The company’s main contact is the same person who worked with Smith County on building the new Smith County Jail, a project funded through a voter-approved bond that opened in early 2015.

Among the duties on a draft contract obtained by the Tyler Morning Telegraph, a company’s representative must “accompany the team to visit county courthouses that meet the expectations of Smith County’s new courthouse.”

Commissioner Jeff Warr, who helped facilitate the new jail, said in an interview that it was helpful to have an advocate during the jail building process, and it will help the county in future projects, whatever they may be.

Warr pointed to the county judge’s proposal in the fiscal year 2020 budget to use cash to renovate the Road and Bridge building just off North Glenwood Boulevard. That budget is going through a summer-long revision and public comment process.

Warr said stakeholders have discussed building a new courthouse someday. He pointed to a conceptual plan by Fitzpatrick Architects that would create more of a city center in the downtown area, and envisions having a modern county courthouse.

However, he said the Commissioners Court has not explicitly endorsed that plan, and he framed planning for building a new courthouse as planning for the county’s long-term future over the next 75 years.

The current Smith County Courthouse is a concrete, brick and stone building that was built in 1955. The courthouse replaced one built in 1910 that many at the time considered one of the most beautiful buildings in Tyler.

In 2018, Commissioner JoAnn Hampton said during her reelection campaign that she would like to build a new courthouse. She said the work might involve taking out a bond, and suggested the work not start until work is completed on the $39.5 million road bond approved in 2017.

In March, when County Judge Nathaniel Moran spoke at a luncheon about the importance of county government, he said he tends to speak on items that start with a “C.” On what could be the subject of future talks, he told the audience, “How about a courthouse?”

Warr pointed to the Commissioners Court’s action June 11 to select three architectural firms for potential services after sending out a request for qualifications. The firms were Fitzpatrick Architects, Komatsu Architects, and HOK Dallas Architects.

“They will come up with something but they’re not necessarily our advocates,” Warr said. “So since we don’t have an inspection department or engineering department in the county, it’s advantageous to have someone looking at these things.”

Warr said it is unlikely that work on a new courthouse would start while he is still in office — he won’t run for reelection in 2020 — but said he wanted to offer his advice to the Commissioners Court on how to go through the process for a major capital project.

Warr will present the contract at a regular meeting starting at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in the Smith County Courthouse Annex, 200 E. Ferguson St.

TWITTER and INSTAGRAM: @_erinmansfield

Government Reporter

Erin came to Tyler from Vermont, where she worked for VTDigger.org and previously the Rutland Herald. She received her B.A. in Economics and Spanish from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where she also attended journalism school.

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