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

by SEAN BATURA

A contract to design a nature center for the city’s Purgatory Creek Natural Area was rejected on a 3-3 tie last week with opposing San Marcos City Council members saying the costly project should be postponed or scrapped all together.

MERCURY GRAPHIC by BRAD ROLLINS

The center is envisioned as an educational and recreational facility at the gateway to the 463-acre preserve as a setting for children’s camps, outdoor classes and tours and a showcase for living Central Texas animals and plants. The building is also supposed to serve as a prototype for green building practices, including solar panels and a rainwater collection system.

On Tuesday, council member Ryan Thomason successfully blocked execution of the $318,000 architectural contract with College Station-based Brown Reynolds Watford Architects Inc.

“I don’t think it’s the right time to break a record for the most expensive building per square foot ever built in San Marcos,” Thomason said. “I can’t get on-board with putting taxpayer dollars on rainwater collection systems and solar panels. I agree with what the point and the intent behind it is, and if all those guys want to donate those services to the city…I think that’d be great.”

Rodney Cobb, the Parks and Recreation department director, said the nature center would be built to council members’ expectation and wouldn’t include solar panels and rainwater collection if they were cost prohibitive.

Council members Chris Jones and Shane Scott joined Thomason in voting against the contract. Mayor Daniel Guerrero, and council members Kim Porterfield and Fred Terry voted in favor of the contract. Jude Prather abstained from the vote because he is employed by the county which has committed a $1.6 million parks and open space grant toward developing the natural area for public access.

Council members who supported the nature center questioned whether canceling its construction would endanger the county funds, which were granted based on the pledge of matching funds from the city. Rodney Cobb, the Parks and Recreation department director, said he did not think the grant was contingent on construction of the nature center.

Hays County Commissioner Will Conley, whose Precinct 3 encompasses the natural area, said it is unlikely the county would seek to revoke its grant to the city over a scratched nature center project.

“We will have the appropriate conversations with the city as our partner to see how we move forward and how that (council vote) impacts the project as a whole, and the financial commitments that are necessary from the city and the county to make sure that we have a good park,” Conley said.

The $1.6 million grant was among the $3.1 million county commissioners awarded to the city in July 2008 from a $30 million parks bond passed by voters the year before.

Because the contract award was not defeated outright, it can still be brought to council for reconsideration later. Earlier in the meeting, the nature center’s supporters rejected a proposal from Jones to postpone execution of the contract until 60 percent of the project cost had been raised through grants, foundations and private donors. His motion to do that failed 3-3.

Porterfield, arguing on behalf of immediate execution of the architectural contract, told her colleagues the drought makes it particularly important to educate people about the area’s endangered species and the aquifer’s delicate health.

“I think that we are getting the bang for our buck by leveraging county funds to get something like this — an education center that our school children (can use), to get more people out and using the parks, out walking the trails, out understanding about our environment and why we need to take care of it,” Porterfield said.

She also pointed out that the council had already voted to budget for the center and that the contract was only on the council agenda because of an ordinance that requires contracts of more than $50,000 be approved by the council. Jones said Tuesday was a “perfect stopping point” for the project because it would be harder to put on the brakes once money has been spent.

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5 thoughts on “Council blocks $3 million nature center

  1. As a kid I spent thousands of hours in the woods without the benefit of a nature center. We don’t need it and it people would be inventing reasons to use the building. At the most you might put some composting toilets at the trail head and a drinking fountain. Thank you Ryan, Chris & Shane for your common sense. I can think of about 6 better parks related projects for the city to spend its money on. #1 would be relieving pressure on Rio Vista Park through construction of some alternatives for families to gather.

  2. Common sense!?? The city loses out on the millions of birding and wildlife watching dollars that are spent in Texas each year (check TPWD for exact figures) for not having a facility like this. There is a clear economic benefit to be had here. Thomason can’t get behind rainwater collection in the middle of the worst drought on record? He can’t support solar in a time where our dependence on oil is crippling us a nation? Hardly common sense, more like short sighted with a marked lack of vision. A nature center is supposed a be a community building for people to “invent reasons to use.” That’s part of the beauty of it- it serves EVERYONE. The public is asking for more family activities and council promised to protect the river. Trying to kill the environmental education dedicated to the river is hardly meeting that goal or listening to the community. Thank you Daniel, Kim, and Fred for your commitment to the river!

  3. I think it unfortunate that in this ever urbanizing world that we cannot set aside the funds to educate ourselves and future generations about the importance of preserving what we have left. For town that is located in an environmentally sensitive area, you would think that we would be aware of the importance of a place that not only is educational, but could also be fun. Children would get to see plants and animals that normally they wouldn’t get to, and get to experience the nature around them in an engaging way. Even though people may have gone outside to “experience” nature in the past, I definitely don’t see hoards of young children running around outside. In a age of the PlayStation, Laptop, and smartphone, most of the younger generation is holed up indoors staring at a LCD screen. To have a place that is close by, fun, and teaches the younger generation that hey, outside maybe isn’t so bad, I think is a wise way to spend funds. As an avid birder I can tell you the location of the new center is in a prime spot to see many bird species. The revenue from birders is huge in the state of Texas, and if the new Nature Center is built, I’m sure they could grab some of that revenue.

  4. If parents aren’t willing to make their kids go outside in their own yards, what makes anyone think they would be willing to drive them across town to a nature center???

    I’m all for preserving natural areas, and I may be convinced that there are good reasons for building a nature center….but “let’s do it for the children” isn’t an argument that will win me over.

  5. Kids do go outside. Sadly they all seem to go to the same place at the same time – Rio Vista Park. How many neighborhood pocket parks could you build for the same money you’ll spend on this nature center? And the beauty of birding is that all you need is birds and binoculars.

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