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Construction of new Travis Courthouse could be four years away

Friday, July 15, 2011 by Michael Kanin

If Travis County elects to build its new Civil and Family Law Courthouse by way of a public-private partnership, groundbreaking could be many years off. “I’m saying: three, four years before we break ground,” Travis County Purchasing officer Cyd Grimes told In Fact Daily.


On Tuesday, Grimes detailed her expectations for a process that could end in the county’s selection of a private firm to help construct the new courthouse. Still, she told commissioners she wasn’t convinced that such an arrangement would be the best way to proceed.


“A lot of people have been pushing this (public-private partnership),” she said. “I’m not convinced that it’s going to be cheaper, better, or faster. I think if we went and borrowed the money and did either a Construction Manager at Risk, or a Design-Build, we would be quicker down the road.”


Construction Manager at Risk and Design-Build are two different, public driven construction methods approved by the State of Texas. Grimes noted that she believes that those in favor of the public-private partnership think that the county could construct a better quality building through that process.


The county purchased a plot of land on the south side of Republic Square this past December for $21.75 million. Officials intend to use the space for the new courthouse facility. However, the funding mechanism the court will use to finance the project has been the source of a split on the Travis dais.


Pct. 3 Commissioner Karen Huber and Pct. 4 Commissioner Margaret Gomez each objected to what they considered an overly quick jump into the public-private process. Their resistance was spurred by concerns that county officials are not yet well informed enough about public-private partnerships to make an educated decision about that funding mechanism.


Still, the court decided to hire a consultant that would help Travis officials sort through the public-private process. In a bid process that closed Wednesday, the county received bids from many well-known firms including Hawkins, Delafield & Wood LLP, Jones Lang LaSalle, Ernst & Young LLP, Kell Muñoz, Inc., Development Resolutions II LLC, KPMG Corporate Finance LLC, Basile Bauman Prost Cole & Associates, Inc., CB Richard Ellis, Cushman & Wakefield/Oxford Commercial, and Public Financial Management, Inc.


Grimes noted that her presentation was “more for the public and the media.”


“There have been a lot of news articles about our new…courthouse and the process, and all the research we’ve been doing and there are some misperceptions that we pre-selected folks,” she continued.


After the hearing she elaborated on the point. “I got a phone call from a couple of people saying, ‘Well, y’all have already decided who you are going to hire,’” she said. “I don’t know why people are saying that … it’s just been out there: we’ve already predetermined who we’re going to hire. It’s just not true.”

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