ODESSA, Texas (Nexstar) – Within the past two weeks, two major repairs were required at the Ector County Courthouse.
A supervisor at the County Clerk’s office shared photos of a running leakage, dripping from the ceiling of the first floor of the courthouse. The images show desks and equipment covered with plastic tarp. Trash cans are strategically placed to capture that leakage. Brown residue is splattered on computers, printers, and paperwork.
“It’s just to the point where we got to do something,” said Charles Pierce, the Ector County Maintenance Director. “We got to replace the sewer lines.”
This latest sewage stoppage at the Ector County Courthouse shut down the County Clerk’s Office last Wednesday and on Monday.
“As soon as we found it, we shut down the office. We can’t have the public in this atmosphere, we can’t have employees in this kind of atmosphere,” Pierce said.
Charles Pierce has been the Ector County Maintenance Director for 35 years. He’s in charge of at least 72 buildings in 36 locations, including the Ector County Courthouse. He says the courthouse is a building in dire need of a massive upgrade.
“I’ve seen this building. I’ve gone through every inch of this building,” Pierce said. “I’ve seen two-foot by two-foot chunks of concrete fall off this building.”
Pierce says the total cost of repairs for the two recent repairs will total up to six-thousand dollars, which adds up every time a repair is needed. That includes repairing cracked and broken cast iron pipes, as well as hiring a third-party vendor to sanitize the impacted areas of the courthouse. That is something necessary, Pierce says, to keep the areas healthy enough for employees to be in.
Pierce says the recent sewage stoppage started upstairs in the bathroom of a county judge. The stoppage backed up the County Clerk’s Office on the first floor. Maintenance crews are ripping out the walls upstairs to fix the pipes inside; pipes that have deteriorated from age, rust, and sewer gas. This isn’t the first time employees have been affected, either.
“This whole building needs sewer line replacement. We’re talking eight to ten million dollars. What are you going to do with the employees while we do that?” Pierce said. “What are you going to do? Replace it, or put that into a new building? It’s a push and a shove.”
In some way or another, the ongoing repairs is like placing a band-aid on a major crack. In 2018, Ector County voters turned down a $95 million bond measure for a new Ector County Courthouse, according to the Associated Press.
“We put lipstick on a building for that many years. We just can’t keep doing it,” Pierce said.
To renovate the courthouse, that would mean repairing piping on all floors. Some pipes are at least 90-years-old. The renovations would affect piping on all floors, in walls and in columns. But Pierce says, it would also displace employees and the building would continue to require constant maintenance.
Pierce has described himself as an advocate for a new courthouse, an issue that lies in the hands of taxpayers. If the county does not get a new courthouse, what would that mean for future maintenance?
“We’ll keep putting millions of dollars into this courthouse, and we’ll spend more on this courthouse than a new courthouse in the long run,” Pierce said. “We can’t keep going like we are. The public deserves more, the employees deserve more.”
Right now, maintenance crews are attempting to replace 100-feet of piping, and as much faulty piping that can be located.