Plans to relocate the Harris County courthouse complex on Cypresswood Drive are still in the discussion stages, but Precinct 4 officials have assured the area’s cultural and community groups that a move will not reduce the law enforcement presence in the area.
The county has purchased 172 acres of land west of Hwy. 249 at Holderrieth Road in Tomball where an administrative service center for Precinct 4 and a station for county road crews will be housed.
The parcel also could house services that are offered at the county annex at Cypresswood Drive and Stuebner Airline Road, which include the services delivered by a courthouse, clerk’s office, sheriff’s substation, constable’s office, tax office and justice of the peace.
“[Precinct 4 Commissioner R. Jack Cagle] felt the appropriate thing to do—if we found the appropriate tracts of land and it made sense financially—was to buy with the intent to have land for the county to build a new annex,” Precinct 4 Communications Director Mark Seegers said.
As a result of rapid population growth
in Precinct 4, the area’s needs have outstripped the capacity of the 30-year-old annex building, Seegers said.
“Harris County as a whole has been growing by about 80,000 new residents annually for the past several years, including this year, and the highest growth areas are Spring, Klein, Tomball and portions of Precinct 3,” Seegers said.
The estimated Precinct 4 population was 1,209,000 in 2015—an increase of about 14.5 percent since the county’s 2012 population estimate.
“We’re averaging 40,000 [new residents] a year in new developments, subdivisions and places that require more police services,” Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman said.
Herman said the growing population translates into more police calls and greater demands on his department.
“Just from a perspective of the age of the facility and the physical population growth over the decades, there’s no question there is an argument for replacement,” Seegers said of the Cypresswood Drive complex.
Seegers said the county does not have a firm timeline for replacement.
“I couldn’t tell you if it’s two years away or 10 years away,” Seegers said. “Funding has not been identified.”
The location near Hwy. 249 and Holderrieth Road in Tomball will be more accessible to the general population of Precinct 4, he said.
“Growth has shifted west, closer to the center of the precinct,” Seegers said.
Law enforcement presence
Herman said a police presence along the Cypresswood Drive corridor will remain even if the services in the annex move to a new location.
“The people in that area are used to having a police presence,” Herman said. “One of my main objectives is to have a police station in that area. People become accustomed to a certain level of service and visibility.”
Herman said the precinct had
30 deputies when he started working there in 1985, but it now employs more than 500 people at its seven constable stations, located over an area of
522 square miles.
Herman said personnel will continue to be stationed on Cypresswood Drive. The police presence might be similar to that at a substation, he said.
“[When we are] close to our communities, response times are cut down,” Herman said.
Community leaders have been vocal about the need for police presence in the area.
“We don’t eliminate crime; we just move it [to another location],” said Barbara Thomason, president of the Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce. “If we have law enforcement everywhere, it helps.”
The Cypress Creek Cultural District has developed into a cultural epicenter for the community in part because of the presence of the county services—particularly law enforcement, CCCD President Glen Wilkerson said.
“The cultural district is a rare jewel,” Wilkerson said. “There is nowhere else in the county that provides the cultural, educational, spiritual and recreational opportunities in one location.”
In addition to the library and the Pearl Fincher Museum of Fine Arts, the district includes recreational facilities at Meyer and Collins parks, and the Cypress Creek Christian Church, which houses the Cypress Creek Christian Community Center and The Centrum performing arts venue.
“[Commissioner Cagle] is very committed to what goes on in the cultural district and has assured us that is a priority for him,” CCCD Vice President Clara Lewis said.
Lewis said the district hopes to expand in tandem with other controlled development in the area, bringing more cultural and community opportunities.
“The courthouse has long outgrown its facility there, and it makes sense for them to move; our big concern is that we have a strong police presence,” Lewis said. “The south end of the precinct is the front door, and we’ve got to have a strong front door.”
While the timeline for replacing the county annex has not been established, community leaders are taking initiative in considering how the existing building can be repurposed in the future.
“The chamber’s position is that we would like to see a multipurpose use of that parcel,” Thomason said.
Thomason said a process frequently used by architects and urban planners before approaching a major project, called a charrette, could be conducted to solicit ideas and research possible approaches to a new use for the site.
“We want to retain, if not the building, at least the parcel for community use,” Thomason said. “It’s more useful to have it remain a community space.”
Other possibilities that have been discussed have included using the building for Lone Star College offerings, chamber of commerce facilities, or even an additional museum.
“It would be wonderful if we could bring in a children’s museum or Museum of Natural History [location],” Wilkerson said.
Seegers said it was too early to discuss the future of the courthouse annex building from the county perspective.
However, if the county were to donate the facility to the community, it would not be the first time. In 2004, two years after the old Cypress Creek Library had moved next door and reopened as Barbara Bush Branch Library, former Precinct 4 Commissioner Jerry Eversole agreed to donate the old library building to the community for a fine arts facility if community leaders could fund the renovations.
The Pearl Fincher Museum of Fine Arts opened in 2008.
Keeping arts in the community
PFMFA Director Julia Bussinger said one thing about the county land remains certain: the museum will remain at its current location and will expand with a second building on the county property at Hwy. 249 and Holderrieth Road.
The museum has signed a nonbinding letter of intent with the county to expand its operations to a new facility on the county-owned land. The museum will rent the land from the county, but the building will be under museum control, Bussinger said.
“The board of directors want this museum to be the leading fine art museum in the area outside of the downtown museum district,” Bussinger said. “In order to accomplish this, it is important to expand.”
Bussinger said the expansion will not detract from the offerings at the current museum location, which will continue to offer educational programs and exhibits.
The PFMFA does not have a permanent collection but displays works on loan throughout the year.
“We’re excited for the opportunity to bring these unique opportunities to a new audience and add a greater scale,” Development and Exhibitions Director Laura Baker said. “It would be much larger, would accommodate bigger programs and some day we’d like to host a permanent collection.”
The existing building is 10,000 square feet, but the new museum could be 50,000 square feet, Baker said.
Bussinger said 2022 would be a reasonable goal for a date to begin construction. The first step will be a capital campaign to establish a school of the arts that will be housed at the facility. The directors have not yet set a specific fundraising goal.
“[The school] will ensure the community that art education really matters,” Bussinger said. “Art matters and does change lives.”