Hays County Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley, right, and Broaddus and Associates Austin Area Manager Brenda Jenkins, left, discuss a county government center. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
Hays County officials took two more steps in their 14-year-old quest for more office space earlier this month, narrowing their list to five teams of construction firms to undertake the county’s largest ever building project, then authorizing the acquisition of nine more acres for the structure.
The land deal generated nearly two hours of tortured deliberations among commissioners on Sept. 1, due to a provision in the purchase agreement that requires the county to return the nine acres to their original owner, W.C. Carson, without a full refund, should the county fail to commence construction by March 2011. Carson is offering four acres at no cost and five acres at $217,000 – half its appraised value.
In March, the county acquired 26 acres near Wonder World Drive and Stagecoach Trail from Carson for the proposed government center, trading to Carson county land near Thorpe Land and Interstate-35. But the commissioners recently discovered that the county has a lease with Capital Area Rural Transit System (CARTS) at the Thorpe Lane property.
Because nullifying the CARTS agreement would cost the county between $40,000 and $48,000, commissioners entered a lease agreement with Carson to continue using the Thorpe Lane land. The county also still needs the Thorpe Lane property for San Marcos/Hays County EMS operations. The lease with Carson would entail him receiving what he would otherwise pay in ad valorem taxes. The lease will automatically renew every six months.
Both the county and Carson can terminate the lease with 90 days’ notice. The county has its lease with CARTS until 2015, though it may end the agreement if another location can be found.
Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley) said the government center may increase the value of Carson’s additional nearby land by 700 percent. Sumter cast the lone vote against the nine-acre addition at the Sept. 1 commissioners court meeting.
“I don’t think it’s a good deal for us,” Sumter said at the meeting. “I think the court is committed to building a government center there. So the Carsons are going get the benefit of a government center there, whether we break ground in a year and a half or it takes two years to break ground. Because we may have to reduce the (building’s) size for everyone to be comfortable, or we may have to put it out to vote to raise taxes – and we may get the vote or we may not … Regardless of when it happens, (the Carsons) are going to benefit … so a reversionary clause makes no sense to me. I don’t think it’s a fair deal. I think we (should) buy the property outright or (revise) the time line … maybe a longer time line.”
Broaddus and Associates (B&A) Austin Area General Manager Brenda Jenkins told commissioners at the Sept. 1 meeting that having the additional nine acres would enable more design flexibility, allowing for easier placement of peripheral maintenance and childcare facilities, and eliminating the need for vertical parking.
The county hired B&A in April to be the program manager for the government center project. Commissioners haven’t decided which county offices would relocate to the new building, which is currently sized at 233,000 square feet.
“You want to get as much access as you can to the building on all sides,” Jenkins told the court on Sept. 1. “One of our problems that we had with the original design on the property – because that design was … based on those two additional parcels – was that we didn’t think there was enough access to the building, anyway … I think those two parcels are kind of critical.”
The original design Jenkins spoke of was that produced by PBSJ Corporation, which had completed just less than 40 percent of its scope of work before commissioners opted to end the contract and hire B&A to redesign the building. PBSJ’s work cost taxpayers $2.4 million. Jenkins told commissioners that the government center will likely cost between $70 million and $89.5 million, not including the millions in debt interest. At the Sept. 1 meeting, County Auditor Bill Herzog told Hays County Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley (R-San Marcos) that the 4.5 cents of the property tax rate devoted to building construction and improvements would finance a government center of about $65 million.
In June, the cost for the government center was estimated to be $115 million, not counting debt interest. Commissioners chose an $89.5 million price ceiling in August.
According to the original purchase agreement between the county and Carson, the county would not receive the nine acres until construction of the government center had begun. B&A recently urged the county to acquire the remaining acreage as soon as possible, so the platting and permitting process could begin without delay.
Hays County District Attorney Civil Division Chief Mark Kennedy entered into negotiations with Carson to amend the purchase agreement. Though the county may now purchase the nine acres sooner, Carson wants some assurance that the project will proceed on schedule, hence the reversionary clause. The clause calls for the nine acres to revert back to Carson’s possession if construction on the government center does not begin by the March 2011, after which the county will also only recoup half the price – $109,000 – of the five acres.
“We’ve been talking about building a government center since 1995, and we still haven’t built one,” said Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle), defending Carson’s reversionary clause. Conley shared Barton’s sentiment.
Kennedy said there is little risk that the county will find itself poorer by nine acres and $109,000 come March 2011, because the current target date for construction of the government center is February 2010.
“Let’s see, we have to select someone – that’s going to be in early October, (and) you’re going to (get the) design, get the court to approve (it)…and lock in the prices before January 1 of 2010?” Sumter asked Jenkins. “For this court? You can do it – I’m not sure we can.”
Hays County Precinct 4 Commissioner Karen Ford (D-Dripping Springs) echoed Sumter’s skepticism regarding the county’s ability to finalize a government center design by February.
“It means we would have to act more like the private sector,” Barton said in reply to his colleagues’ concerns. Conley said approving a design by January is feasible if the court is willing to “roll up its sleeves” and “work very hard over the fall.” Sumter warned that doing so may mean commissioners have to sacrifice holidays.
“I realize that,” Conley said. “I’m willing to do that.”
Unlike all the county departments, the commissioners court opted to not conduct business the day after Labor Day.
B&A, county staff and commissioners will interview the five short-listed design-build teams in the next few weeks. The county, with B&A’s assistance, may choose a design-build team by early October. The chosen team will likely be the one that can most efficiently design and construct a 233,000 square foot building at a lower price than its competitors.
After commissioners choose the design-builder, they may elect to set the guaranteed maximum price (GMP) lower than $70 million and/or reduce the number of square feet in the final design. The county will offer the design-builder a percentage of the difference between the GMP and the actual cost, thus providing the firms an incentive to save money for the county.
The Hays County purchasing office released the names of the following firms short-listed for the government center project. The teams are labeled for clarity:
– Balfour Beatty, based in London and founded in 1909, specializes in the design, construction, equipping, maintenance and management of buildings and rail infrastructure, and is a provider of civil and other engineering, design and management services involving transport, energy, and water.
– HDR, based in Omaha and founded in 1917, is an employee-owned firm, offering architectural and engineering services.
– GS&C, based in Austin and founded in 1978, offers planning, programming, building design, interior design and construction services.
– Hensel Phelps, based in Greeley, CO, and founded in 1937, offers general contracting and construction manager services.
– Fentress Architects, based in Denver and founded in 1980, offers architectural services.
– Goetting & Associates, based in San Antonio and founded in 1973, offers mechanical, electrical and plumbing design and consulting services.
– Satterfield & Pontikes Construction, a Houston-based firm founded in 1989, offers general contracting services.
– HOK, a St. Louis-based firm founded in 1955, offers architectural, interior, planning and consulting, engineering, and interior design services.
– Skanska Group, based in Sweden and founded in 1887, offers project development and construction services.
– Kirksey, based in Houston and founded in 1971, offers architectural, sustainable design and consulting, interior design, and master planning services.
– According to the Hays County purchasing department, Goetting & Associates has proposed to team-up with Skanska Group, as well.
– White & Wiginton Hooker, based in Dallas and founded in 1978, offers architectural services.
– PGAL, based in Houston and founded in 1946, offers architectural, interior design, project implementation and program management services.
– Jacobs Engineering Group, based in Pasadena, CA, and founded in 1947, offers engineering, operations and maintenance, construction, and scientific consulting services.Email | Print