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60-acre camp wasn’t inspected before Denton County bought it last year

An aerial view of a sprawling green area.
Courtesy photo
Dawn Cobb, Denton County
Denton County purchased the 60-acre Briarwood Retreat Center camp on Copper Canyon Road in Copper Canyon last year.

No inspection was made of the 60-acre Briarwood Retreat Center campgrounds before Denton County commissioners approved purchasing the property last year, and county officials now say a majority of the site’s buildings are failing.

Dale Nelson, the county’s director of department facilities, told commissioners during a workshop Feb. 1 that no prior inspection was done before the county purchased the land.

County commissioners approved the purchase in February 2023 with $6 million in funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Nelson presented images of wood deterioration, structural cracking and roof deterioration due to extensive water and wood damage.

County Precinct 1 Commissioner Ryan Williams asked Nelson for the estimated cost of repairs, and he voiced his concerns after Nelson told him there was no estimated cost.

Williams said he had been asking for repair costs for over 10 months.

“We bought a piece of property, and I was part of that purchase — that’s my bad,” he said during the workshop. “If I could do it now, I would not have bought it — knowing all the things that I know that we’re dealing with.”

Denton County Judge Andy Eads said county officials knew some of the buildings were in disrepair.

“We purchased the Briarwood Retreat Center as a park for its 60 acres of untouched, natural open space, fully aware that some buildings would be torn down or in need of repairs,” Eads said in an emailed statement. “Any buildings on the property were a bonus, especially the newest building, a conference center, which is ready to be used today for civic, public, and county meetings as well as other events.”

The property is located at 670 Copper Canyon Road in Copper Canyon, east of the Lantana development. Briarwood Lutheran Ministries started operating the camp in 1995 after purchasing it from a Presbyterian group, which opened it in 1959.

Last year, county officials anticipated potentially using the area for training, shelter during major disasters, outdoor education, youth camps and adult retreats.

Camp facility report

The Commissioners Court hired an outside consultant in early January to review and assess existing county facilities, including the camp, to determine the need for maintenance and repairs, according to a statement.

Findings at the campgrounds include:

  • The majority of the buildings are structurally failing.
  • Asbestos and mold are present, and asbestos abatement will cost about $149,000.
  • Air quality monitoring will cost about $40,000
  • The property has extensive landscaping to oversee.
  • Extensive mechanical upgrades are needed.
  • Electrical, water and sewer infrastructure upgrades are needed.
  • Fire-suppression systems are needed in the majority of the buildings.
  • Fiber optic cabling between buildings is needed.
  • Network and wireless equipment are needed.
  • Exterior cameras are needed.
A screenshot of a document showing three images that shows building damage. Text beneath says "Wood deterioration, extensive water damage, wood rot and decay."
Denton Record Chronicle
Denton County commissioners saw images of wood deterioration at the Briarwood Retreat Center site during a presentation at their Feb. 1 workshop.

During the workshop, commissioners agreed that the property needs to be inspected to provide the estimated costs of repairs.

The facility report does mention that the main building renovations are complete, and it is ready to be used.

County buildings also need renovations

Denton County currently operates 39 facilities, not including the camp.

During the workshop, Nelson also gave a presentation about county buildings that need repairs or renovations.

According to the facility report, the Denton County Administrative Courthouse, at 1 Courthouse Drive, has unstable building pressure, and magnetic locks on the exterior door don’t function as designed, which is a safety issue. The fascia is not installed correctly, drain P-traps were not designed as instructed, and general maintenance is also needed.

The Morse Street Building, 3900 Morse St., which houses several departments, needs heating, ventilation and air-conditioning equipment to be replaced and a new roof. The warehouse is full and at capacity. The current elevator needs an upgrade, and an additional elevator is needed.

The Hulcher Building at the Administrative Complex, 611 Kimberly Drive, needs a new roof, caulking and weatherproofing. It also needs an Americans with Disabilities Act compliance inspection.

The Denton County Courts Building, 1450 E. McKinney St., has already had some renovations and upgrades but still requires more. The upgrades needed include plumbing, which is showing erosion to pipes due to age and harsh water; elevator equipment replacements, which the county is currently waiting on estimates for; and additional HVAC in communication rooms.

The county’s current HVAC renovation projects include the Courthouse on the Square, with an estimated cost of $3 million. The Denton County Courts Building HVAC replacements have an estimated cost of $4 million.

“Our county buildings that are a part of our primary core mission will always take precedence in terms of priority to meet the needs of our residents,” Eads said. “Through existing committees, the county has an extensive process in place to review and prioritize building needs on an annual basis, putting safety and serving our residents at the top of the list.”

JUAN BETANCOURT can be reached at