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Council to vote on $27M extension for WTP 4 consultant

Tuesday, March 25, 2008 by Austin Monitor

The Austin City Council this week will vote on an amendment to the contract with the firm handling the design of Water Treatment Plant 4. The $27 million addition for Carollo Engineers is going to the Council without a recommendation from the Water and Wastewater Commission, which reviewed the proposal last week but split over whether to endorse it.


“Carollo has been on this project a long time…they’ve already made a lot of money on this project,” said Commissioner Ronnie Jones. “I haven’t seen a lot of situations like this where we have one engineering firm that’s basically done all the work on a project that goes back five or ten years or so.”


However, city staffers said that changing consulting firms in the middle of the project would be inefficient. Such measures had been tried in the past, said Austin Water Utility Assistant Director Joe Ramos, and had not been successful. “Typically…we put out a call for proposals for engineers…and when we select a company for the project, it’s typically for the life of the project. We don’t drop an engineer and bring in another engineer. We want to maintain some kind of continuity,” he said. “This project has run into more obstacles than normal ..the timeline has been drawn out.”


The current contract with Carollo dates back to 2002, and the company has worked with the city on the design for the new treatment plant and on the search for an alternate site after the Council rejected the land purchased for the project by the Austin Water Utility in the 1980’s. “We put a lot of design into the Bull Creek site, and when the community and the Council directed us to abandon Bull Creek, we lost that,” said AWU Director Greg Meszaros. With the Council’s decision to build on the new Bullick Hollow site, Meszaros said, “there’s very little you could salvage from one site to another. It’s almost two designs. We went to a lot of effort on Bull Creek and wound up shelving up most of it.”


Of the previous $14.4 million appropriation for Carollo, staffers said about $8 million related to work specifically on the Bull Creek site, while about $6 million was for work that could potentially be used at the new site. The contract amendment on this Thursday’s agenda is for approximately $25 million for the final design phase, bidding assistance services, and some construction services at the new site. The item also includes another $1.9 million in contingency allowances.


The total cost for engineering services, while large, was not out of line with the utility’s expectations, according to Ramos. “We still look at the percentage,” he said. Engineering services generally make up about 25 percent of a project’s budget, staffers said, and since WTP 4 is expected to cost about $350 million, the engineering costs are so far within the appropriate range.


Project Manager Tina Van Wie told Commissioners that the city would have high expectations of Carollo. “We have five site plans to prepare, and we are going to have an integrated approach with our permitting team so we don’t get caught up at the last minute submitting our site plan having to do any major re-design,” she said. “This is such a large project, there’s a lot of coordination. This also includes bid phase services and some construction at different phases starting as early as this fall.”


Commissioner Mario Espinoza made motion to endorse the contract amendment, with a second from Chair Mike Warner. However, Commissioners Jones, Cheryl Scott-Ryan, and Laura Raun opposed the recommendation. Commissioners Karen Friese and Dale Gray abstained and Commissioner Chien Lee was absent.

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