Congressman Cuellar Announces Authorization of San Antonio Federal Courthouse Plan by House Committee
Approval gives green light for beginning of construction on new courthouse
Today Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX-28) announced that the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will authorize plans tomorrow by the United States General Services Administration (GSA) for a new federal courthouse in San Antonio. As the congressman previously announced, the GSA transmitted its plans for a new federal courthouse to Congress in late April following the congressman’s work to include appropriations in last year’s government funding package for a new courthouse in San Antonio for the Western District of Texas.
The plans call for $132.6 million to complete the design and construct the new courthouse, which will include eight courtrooms and accommodate 13 judges. The approximately 305,000-square-foot courthouse will be built on the site of the former City Police Headquarters at 214 West Nueva Street. The new courthouse will consolidate all of the district court and associated U.S. Marshals Service space into one facility.
Under federal budgeting guidelines, funds must both be authorized and appropriated by separate committees in both the House and Senate before they can be disbursed. As a member of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, Congressman Cuellar secured the funds, or appropriations, for the San Antonio project in the government funding package last year, and tomorrow’s authorization by the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will mark the go-ahead for the beginning of construction on the new courthouse. The U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works previously granted authorization of these funds.
The funds for a new San Antonio federal courthouse are badly needed. The existing John H. Wood, Jr. U.S. Courthouse serves as the seat of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas and is consistently ranked as one of the busiest federal courthouses in the country; however, it was never intended as a judicial facility.
The courthouse was built nearly 50 years ago as a movie theater for the 1968 World’s Fair and lacks many basic requirements for a courthouse. Judges, jurors, prosecutors and visitors often pass defendants charged with violent crimes in corridors around the building. The building lacks a protected perimeter; tests positive for high levels of lead and iron contamination in its water, likely due to poor pipe construction; and is missing proper heating and air conditioning controls, not to mention asbestos and mold in and around the HVAC systems.
Physical and environmental safety issues aside, the courthouse has nowhere near the capacity needed for current staffing levels. Originally housing two judges and 24 staff, the building is now home to seven judges and more than 280 staff.
"The Wood Courthouse has kept the Western District going for nearly 50 years, but it unfortunately does not have the capacity to support it any longer," Congressman Cuellar said. "I worked with colleagues late last year, including Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and San Antonio colleagues Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX-21), Congressman Will Hurd (R-TX-23), Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-TX-35) and Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-TX-20), to secure the needed appropriations for this project, and now it can go forward with the necessary authorization. Having a new, state-of-the-art federal courthouse for this busy federal judicial district will keep the users of the facility safe and will allow for better administration of justice. In addition to Sen. Cornyn, I would like to thank U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA-9), Transportation and Infrastructure Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management Subcommittee Chairman Lou Barletta (R-PA-11) and Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR-4), as well as Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK) and Ranking Member Barbara Boxer (D-CA) for their assistance in moving this process along.
“I would also like to thank the following people working on the ground in Texas and elsewhere to make this courthouse a reality: San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor and the San Antonio City Council; Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff; Judge Xavier Rodriguez, U.S. District Court, Chief Judge for the Western District of Texas; Judge Orlando Garcia, U.S. District Court, Judge, the Western District of Texas; Bexar County Commissioner Chico Rodriguez and his colleagues on the Bexar County Commissioners Court; Sylvia Hernandez, GSA Regional Administrator; and Judge Brooks Smith, chair of the Space and Facilities Committee for the Judicial Conference of the United States.”