San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

October 14th, 2009
County chooses gov center builder

Hays County Commissioners look at government center model shown by Balfour Beatty and HDR. Photo by Sean Batura.

News Reporter

Hays County commissioners unanimously chose Balfour Beatty and HDR Tuesday to design and build the largest and most costly structure ever attempted by the county.

But the building won’t be as expensive as once thought.

The design-build team proposed a conceptual design entailing a total estimated project cost of $73,955,339 for the Hays County Government Center to be located on Wonder World Drive. Commissioners had settled on a maximum cost of $89.5 million.

The government center steering committee recommended Balfour Beatty/HDR over the two other teams shortlisted more than a week ago. Design-build team Satterfield & Pontikes Construction and HOK offered a conceptual design at an estimated total project cost of $78,123,343. The other finalist team — composed of Skanska Group, Kirksey and Goetting & Associates — proposed two design options at total project costs of $74,990,740 and $74,415,590.

“Balfour Beatty was not selected for the sole reason that they undercut Skanska by $400,000 on their concept,” said Hays County District Attorney Civil Division Chief Mark Kennedy, who sat on the government center steering committee. “That might be the impression that the people sitting in the court have, but that’s not the only basis for their selection. There was a variety of considerations that we had in recommending Balfour Beatty.”

The county government center will likely house six district courts, three county court at law courts, one justice of the peace court, a law library, and the offices for adult probation, compliance, Precinct 1 constable, district attorney, juvenile probation, district clerk, auditor, county clerk, elections, human resources, information technology, tax assessor, treasurer and veterans affairs.

Construction will begin in February 2010. It is expected that the government center will be completed sometime in 2011.

Commissioners authorized government center project manager Broaddus and Associates (B&A) — whom the county hired in April and has thus far paid $351,392.20 — to negotiate a contract with Balfour Beatty/HDR. The court will probably vote to execute the contract next Tuesday. The county will seek a guaranteed maximum price (GMP) for the project and offer the design-build team a percentage of the difference between the GMP and the building’s actual cost, thus giving the firms an incentive to save money. Kennedy said a contract might be executed before the GMP is negotiated because some aspects of the design may need to be tweaked.

“For instance, programmatically, there may be some offices that need to be removed or expanded,” Kennedy said. “That probably won’t happen, because I think we’ve been through so much programming at this point that we’ve got the right size for the offices — it’s a matter of where we’re locating them in terms of future expansion needs, in terms of adjacency protocols — one office wanting to be near another one, for instance. And some of that might change some of the pricing.”

Hays County District Attorney Sherri Tibbe, Precinct 1 Constable David Peterson, Hays County Auditor Bill Herzog and Hays County Director of the Resource Protection, Transportation and Planning Jerry Borcherding asked commissioners to choose a design-build team for the government center and thereby address the county’s office overcrowding problems, among other issues.

“Our adult probation (office) is currently in a very inappropriate location for the types of services that they provide every day,” Tibbe said. “Their office space is divided by a pizza restaurant, and they have to walk down a hallway that they share with this pizza place. There’s also a bar in the same area that we have probationers coming in and taking classes on why they shouldn’t be drinking or using drugs. And they can hear the noise and the music from the bar when they’re conducting these classes.”

Tibbe said the current Hays County Justice Center — formerly an H-E-B — does not inspire “a sense of authority and dignity” appropriate for courts building. Tibbe also said the county does not have a suitable holding area for prisoners, which, she said, results in inmates being “paraded through public areas” to the detriment of their dignity and the public’s safety.

Herzog said the county can pay $2.4 million in debt issuance costs for the government center instead of the original estimated issuance cost of $4.2 million.

“And that includes six months of capitalized interest,” Herzog said. “That brings (the total project cost) down to $72,700,000.”

Herzog said the county could bring the project cost down to $71.4 million if it pays Broaddus out of the operating budget instead of the project funds. At $71.4 million with 4.75 percent interest, the annual payment would be $4,780,290, just higher than the $4.5 million annually budgeted for county building improvements.

Herzog added that although the county is counting on a 4.75 percent interest rate, today’s market would produce a rate between four and 4.5 percent. At four percent, the county’s annual debt service for the project would be $4.4 million.

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