AUSTIN (KXAN) — Work is set to begin at 1700 Guadalupe for a new Travis County Civil and Family Court facility after a groundbreaking ceremony Friday.

The project has come a long way since voters rejected a $287 million dollar bond proposal to fund construction three and a half years ago.

In 2015 Travis County officials pointed out cramped space in the old facility, saying that people involved in heated court cases against one another, were forced to sit side-by-side. The new building is set to be much more accommodating.

“​​​​​We want this building to be vibrant and useful and helpful, and most importantly, we want the community to know that this is a safe place for them to come when they have a legal dispute,” said Judge Lora Livingston, of the 261st civil district court in Travis County. “This building is for the citizens of this community who deserve justice. We exist as the third branch of government to provide a civilized way in which people resolve their disputes.” 

Livingston was joined at the groundbreaking by Judge Sarah Eckhardt, and Commissioners Jeff Travillion and Brigid Shea.

The new courthouse will feature 25 new state-of-the-art courtrooms and dedicated safe victim waiting areas. It will also include conference rooms for attorney-client meetings, a short term child drop-off center, a law library, self-care center and a four-level underground parking garage.

“Whether it is a divorce, a child custody dispute, or even a domestic violence case, those who are entering this court facility are facing one of the most difficult days of their lives,” said Eckhardt. “It is our obligation to make their trip to the courthouse a calming experience and quickly get them back to their daily routines.”

Before serving on the commissioners’ court, Eckhardt worked in the County Attorney’s Office and would oftentimes work on Protective Orders. She personally witnessed the negative impact the small courthouse space had on some of the most sensitive cases and tense situations that went along with them. 

“Sitting on a wooden bench in a cold and not very well-lit hallway, within arm’s reach of the person that you’re asking for protection from, is just not appropriate,” Eckhardt explained. “We shouldn’t be adding to the suffering of people who are trying to resolve their civil matter in a way that is, well, civil.”

The current Travis County Courthouse on Tenth Street and Guadalupe was originally constructed in 1931 and hadn’t been renovated in over 50 years. County officials say it was not suited for current needs and has gotten worse in recent years.

The courthouse facility is scheduled to be completed in 2022.