April Fool’s Day is a time of pranks, but this year a momentous event took place on April 1 in Liberty County, Texas – the groundbreaking of the new law enforcement center on a 39-acre tract of land just north of North Main Baptist Church in Liberty.
The law enforcement center will include a new headquarters in the main building for the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office and the Liberty County Office of Emergency Management, and offices in the annex for the Pct. 3 Justice of the Peace and Constable, Texas game wardens, Texas Department of Public Safety personnel and the Texas Rangers.
The County has budgeted $25 million for the project but construction is expected to be just under $20 million. The project is being funded by certificates of obligation that Liberty County commissioners approved in June 2020.
Acting as emcee at the groundbreaking ceremony, County Judge Jay Knight said the law enforcement center is the fruition of a goal that he and Pct. 2 Commissioner Greg Arthur and Pct. 4 Leon Wilson established years earlier before they were sworn into office. All three have a background in law enforcement – Arthur as former sheriff, Wilson as a retired peace officer and Knight as a former employee for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
“We all agreed that we had to do something to help the sheriff’s office and law enforcement in general. What you see today has taken about six years and for someone to finally say, ‘It’s okay. Do it,'” Knight said.
The new sheriff’s office, in particular, is much needed, according to Sheriff Bobby Rader, who joked during his groundbreaking day speech that he feels like the Little Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe from the Mother Goose poem.
“We are all cramped at our present location [on Beaumont Ave. in Liberty]. We probably disturb the neighbors as we answer calls. The building is so old and has so many maintenance problems. We can’t keep up with it,” Rader said.
Rader said that the groundbreaking was more than sticking shovels in the ground and turning dirt.
“Today, plans will be put into action. Dreams will be realized. Today will be the start of a new building that will be occupied by people who have taken an oath to protect and serve the citizens of Liberty County. This all came about as a result of hard work, teamwork and dedication,” said Rader.
He thanked County Judge Jay Knight, Commissioners Bruce Karbowski, Greg Arthur, David Whitmire and Leon Wilson, and County Auditor Dwayne Gott for their parts in the project.
Since Liberty County was first established in 1836, 42 sheriffs have served. Today, only four are still living and three were in attendance at the groundbreaking ceremony – O.J. Stewart (39), Greg Arthur (40) and Rader (42). Henry Patterson, who was absent from the festivities, was the 41st sheriff for Liberty County. The 38th sheriff, Sonny Applebe, passed away recently.
The buildings that make up the law enforcement center were designed by Kenny Burns with Burns Architecture and will be erected by White Construction Company. The design allows for an area to be set aside for a new jail in the future.
Burns thanked the County for selecting his firm and trusting him to guide the project.
“What we envision is that this is a site that is not just home to the sheriff’s office but home to what eventually will be a campus for your law enforcement facilities, ultimately a jail. It’s a big undertaking. I like to be frugal in spending your tax dollars. The cost of these buildings, while it’s not cheap, is really good for the times we are in,” Burns said.
The sheriff’s office/OEM building will be roughly 49,000 square feet and the annex will be 9,000 square feet. The buildings are expected to be ready by spring to summer of 2022.