City e-mails point to asbestos, plumbing issues at Austin Municipal Court

A steady stream of Austinites walked up to the doors of the Austin Municipal Court on Thursday morning only to find...it's closed.

"I was scheduled for court at 9:30 and apparently I don't know what's going to happen now. I drove here and wasted about a quarter of gas getting down here in traffic," said Isaiah Love.

The City said all appearances and dockets for Thursday would be rescheduled...fines, fees or penalties due would be extended to Friday when the building is supposed to re-open.

So what's going on? "Emergency maintenance?"

FOX 7 obtained a couple of memos from Municipal Court Clerk Mary Jane Grubb to council members and the City Manager's office. One sent on the 17th mentioned a disintegrated sewer line -- due to asbestos conditions in the building the project would be "significant."

Grubb wrote "If you recall, almost two years ago, we informed you that the building is one 'disaster' away from being inoperable and it appears that situation is very close at hand. As always, we are asking for your support in relocating the Austin Municipal Court and Downtown Community Court; both buildings are in dire condition."

Wednesday afternoon, Grubb told council some plumbing work had been done "which required building services to investigate the infrastructure above the ceiling tiles in a few areas of the first floor. In an overabundance of caution, we are having the dust above the ceiling tiles tested as well as air quality testing throughout the entire building."

The city's public information office stressed to Fox 7 the tests are out of an abundance of caution, they say the building is older so there is asbestos there -- they just wanted to make sure asbestos wasn't disturbed in the process and late Thursday afternoon tests confirmed everything is ok.

Regardless, the memos seem to point to a pattern of issues and a desire for a new facility.

Mayor Pro-Tem Kathie Tovo says council has heard from court administrators about the challenges.

"It has been an issue and a matter of priority for our real estate division to look at some long term options and I believe they're trying to look at some potential locations, maybe some potential partners in constructing a new facility for the municipal court," Tovo said.

Sharing the same building as the municipal court -- the Austin Police Department's main headquarters which Police Association President Ken Casaday believes is also a safety concern.

"They've had problems for years with headquarters, there's been elevator problems, there's been water issues, hot water issues, asbestos issues so this is not a surprise to me. That building is old and in disrepair and needs to be sold," he said.

Today the Jaime Padron North Substation and South Substation of the Municipal Court were open.

Due to the asbestos tests clearing, the downtown location will re-open Friday morning at 7am.

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