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Travis commissioners approve central campus contract

Wednesday, May 20, 2009 by Jacob Cottingham

Travis County Commissioners, absent a vote from Pct. 1 Commissioner Ron Davis, unanimously approved Tuesday a $1.535 million central campus study to be conducted by Broaddus and Associates.


Purchasing Agent Cyd Grimes has been negotiating with Broaddus since March 10, when Commissioners authorized her to begin negotiations. The firm was responsible for an earlier assessment of the county’s downtown holdings.


Grime told the commissioners it was one of the better negotiations she has dealt with, and reported that Broaddus decreased the price for the final contract.


Christian Smith, the project executive, informed commissioners of the project’s details. The long-range plan will “develop the necessary facilities supporting the civil and criminal justice system and certain governmental functions,” out to 2035. The 18 month-long process will look at 33 county departments. The project’s first phase should take eight months to complete, with an expected completion date in February of 2010. Phase I is essentially a needs assessment to determine what space is available and what new space will be needed.


Phase II will take 10 months to complete and should be wrapped up by December 2010. It will develop three scenarios for the downtown sites. Smith characterized Phase II as, “now that we know what we need how do we get it?” He said it would examine buildings and land the county owns downtown as well as investigating which departments could be reorganized and moved out of downtown. In effect it will be a “roadmap of the next 25 years,” he said. 


The cost of Phase I is “just under $700,000, and is in the fiscal year 2009 budget,” Smith said. Phase II will ring in at $841,152 for FY 2010.


Commissioner Davis had issues with the funding. “I don’t know where the money is right now,” he told In Fact Daily. “This stuff that they’re doing is going to cost $1.5 million — that’s a lot of money. We don’t know where we are in the budget cycle. They haven’t even given us a preliminary budget.”


Smith said the money for Phase II is “anticipated to be in the FY2010 budget… you will see $840,000 in the preliminary budget.” Because of a “funding out” clause, commissioners can address the issue in September and drop the project by not funding it.


Smith stressed the importance of the project. “The project is complicated, there’s no question,” Smith said. “The downtown campus lacks physical cohesion and identity. Wooldridge Park is never utilized. There’s little pedestrian activity or retail ground floor activity and there’s limited transportation opportunities. And there are few architectural features on campus that make people want to visit.” He said the plan encompasses over 12 technical professional disciplines and over 40 consultants. “This is not done very often…but when it is, it sets the master plan so there is a road map,” he said.


Judge Sam Biscoe noted that “these services are pretty expensive,” compared to the budget of the city of Austin’s master plan and UT’s planning for the Brackenridge tract. Commissioners voted unanimously in favor of the contract with Davis abstaining.  “I don’t want to do anything prematurely until I see the numbers, man,” he told In Fact Daily.


The planning begins with a June 5 kickoff of the steering committee followed by a June 24 “visioning session” for county officials to lay out what they see as the goals and objectives of the plan.

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