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County plans downtown campus design

Thursday, July 1, 2010 by Michelle Jimenez

It’s a given that Travis County officials will consider cost when selecting one of three potential designs for a central downtown campus.


But there are a host of other factors county commissioners will take into account in the coming months, such as whether the design includes meeting places and gathering spaces, is pedestrian-friendly, and allows for a creative use of historic structures.


Those are among the criteria the court approved Tuesday as the next step in the planning process for a centralized campus that will be designed to meet the county’s space needs through 2035. Currently, county offices are scattered in a number of buildings downtown and elsewhere, and officials know they will need more space over the next 25 years.


Included in the proposed scenarios will be the $61.3 million building at 700 Lavaca Street that the county closed on last week.


Stephen Coulston, vice president of Broaddus Planning in Austin, the firm hired in 2009 to oversee the planning effort, expects to have three central campus designs to take to the public for input in August.


“In order to help it better evaluate those, we have identified a set of qualitative criteria whereby you can look at each of those through kind of as objective (a) lens as possible as you look at each of the characteristics of the plan,” he told the court.


Coulston told In Fact Daily that he expects the court to vote on a design in September.


The “evaluation matrix,” as it’s called in county lingo, divides the criteria the county will use into four categories: space; location and relationships; site planning and urban design; and cost, economy, and efficiency. Each category has a number of line items that will be used to assess the plans, such as “accommodates projected 2035 space needs,” “includes building amenities,” and “provides landmark civic buildings.”


“I suppose from the user perspective of this matrix the eye’s in the beholder with regard to each one of these line items whether it’s the highest priority,” Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt told Coulston. “Just using myself for an example, I may have a higher priority on ‘provides landmark civic buildings’ as another user of the matrix, and we don’t venture a prioritization among the line items. We’re only saying of these concerns that have been identified, how well does plan A, B, or C address those?”


Coulston said that is the case and explained that the matrix was an overall tool to help the court determine which plan best meets the goals they’ve set. 


“It’s not intended as a weighted evaluation criteria where you end up with a numeric score at the end but rather more as the qualitative tool to help look at the scores in the aggregate,” he said. “Commissioner Eckhardt, you’re exactly right, as there’s some criteria that would score higher on some folks criteria list than on others.”


The court will consider the trio of scenarios at the end of the next phase of a “very robust public and countywide involvement process,” Coulston told the commissioners.


“So we’ll also be sharing with you incomes and outputs of the discussions that we’ve heard from the community and from representatives within the county, administration, staff, and elected and public officials, as well,” he said.


The newly purchased 30-year-old building on Lavaca in the heart of downtown has 15 stories and will be home to the commissioner’s court. The court was slated to vote Tuesday on authorizing staff members to issue a request for qualifications for a project to renovate the first two floors of the building. However, that item was postponed.


The court did, however, vote to use the county’s nine in-house architects to design renovations for floors three through 15 of the new building, adding that they could contract out if the architects were tied up on other projects.

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