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Plans for new Hays County government center come with lower price tag

Wednesday, April 14, 2010 by Austin Monitor

Construction costs for Hays County‘s massive new government center will be at least $6.2 million less than what county officials had estimated. On Tuesday, county commissioners approved design documents for the 233,600-square-foot building, which comes with a guaranteed maximum price of $52 million — far below the $58.3 million officials had estimated.


County commissioners praised project manager Broaddus and Associates and general contractor Balfour Beatty for lowering construction costs.


“What we have today is shockingly good news,” said Pct. 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton. “This defies people’s expectations of government and shows that we can be more entrepreneurial.”


Two weeks ago, county commissioners issued $71.2 million in certificates of obligation for what will be the largest single building ever constructed by the county. The total bond amount accounts for about $15 million in estimated additional costs.


On Tuesday, after a presentation that included graphic renderings of the facility, commissioners approved the design and cleared the way for a groundbreaking on April 23.


The new building, which will be located near Wonder World Drive and Stagecoach Trail in San Marcos, will house the court and most county offices including the justice center, which is currently located in a building that a decade ago was an H-E-B grocery store.


Plans for the government center call for 10 courtrooms, four on the second floor and six on the third floor, as well as holding areas for inmates awaiting trial. Although the county is not planning to seek a LEED certification at this time, the design includes a host of green features: concrete designed to reduce solar heat, landscaping that uses less water, motion sensors to reduce light use, extensive use of natural lighting, low-flow toilets and faucets, and use of some local materials and materials with recycled content.


Pct. 1 Commissioner Deborah Ingalsbe, who has led the effort to build the government center, said the decision concerning whether or not to pursue a LEED certification had to be balanced with the goal of keeping construction costs down.


“It’s all about cost. But this is something that we want to bring back to court since there was some savings,” she said. “I don’t know that it’s totally out of the question.”


In June 2009, Broaddus and Associates told commissioners that a new government center could cost up to $89.5 million, although the initial round of design-build bids came in between $73.9 and $78 million — the cheapest of them from Balfour Beatty and HDR, the design firm on the project. In November commissioners signed a contract with Balfour Beatty and HDR stipulating that design and construction costs would not exceed $58.3 million but also named a steering committee to work with the contractors to reduce costs wherever they could.


“There’s nothing in this building that’s bloated, nothing in it that’s overdesigned,” said Brenda Jenkins, Austin area manager for Broaddus Associates.


“I am very pleasantly surprised,” Pct. 4 Commissioner Karen Ford told the contractors on Tuesday. “I did not think you guys were going to come in $6.5 million under the projected cost. I thought maybe a million or two, so this is very impressive.”


Tommy Campbell, operations director for Balfour Beatty, told county commissioners that the timing of the project helped lower initial cost estimates. With the economy in recession, “contractors were hungry,” Campbell said. “That’s what’s driving the low pricing.”


Tuesday’s vote amounts to a notice to proceed with construction, with a 20-month building schedule beginning next week. A move-in date is tentatively set for Dec. 21, 2011.

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