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County building renovation could top $20 million

Tuesday, September 4, 2012 by Michael Kanin

Renovations to the Ned Granger Building, which until recently hosted Travis County  Commissioners Court proceedings, could cost taxpayers more than $20 million.


Members of the court got that news as part of a budget estimate presented to them last week.


County officials could end up spending nearly $3 million more for costs associated with renovating the parking garage behind the administrative building, which is located at 314 West 11th Street. The planned project is part of a long-term county undertaking to expand and reshuffle county office space during the next three decades.


With the work on the Granger building, the county’s facilities department is hoping to relocate a cafeteria from the building’s third floor to its first floor. That project gave Commissioners Karen Huber and Sarah Eckhardt pause.


“Our county is not in the regular habit of building kitchens and restaurants,” said Huber. “They are a unique entity themselves and I just wonder if there has been any consideration of subcontracting out the design and renovation of (that portion of the project).”


“There are firms that do restaurant design on spec,” suggested Eckhardt of the Austin market.


Since the acquisition and renovation of a 15-story building at 700 Lavaca, a host of county staff and officials – including the commissioners and their courtroom – have relocated to that facility. This leaves a significant portion of the aging Granger building, built in 1953, open for new uses. That will come after a refitting of the entire structure.


In a written brief filed with commissioners by the county’s facilities department, county staff laid out the Granger building’s issues. “The building is in poor condition and needs several costly upgrades in order to make it a useful building for the county in the future,” read the report.


According to the report, the work includes improvements to the building’s: cooling tower; heating, air conditioning and ventilation system; fire alarm; sprinkler systems; restrooms; and its information technology systems. All told, the renovations of the building are estimated to cost $150 per square foot, while the work on the garage is put at $8 a square foot.


The proposed move of the cafeteria attracted the most attention from commissioners. In response to Huber and Eckhardt’s position, Commissioner Ron Davis took his familiar role as defender of in-house facilities. “We have capable staff here,” he said.


After the hearing, Huber told In Fact Daily that she wasn’t so sure that staff could tackle the cafeteria. “When I worked at ClubCorp, I did restaurants all the time – and they were new ones,” she said. “This kind of comes back to the same thing with 700 Lavaca: Are we stepping outside our facilities’ employees own comfort zone?”


“There are construction companies, and architects, and consultants out there that do nothing but kitchens and restaurants,” Huber continued. “I know that when you’re at or below ground level, things like grease traps, exhaust – in particularly renovated buildings – are extremely expensive. I don’t know what those answers are right now, but I just think that we need to pay attention to those items. Plus, there’s always a tendency – I know this from when I was in business – to overbuild a kitchen and we don’t need to do that. Those who are really experts in the field can better help us in that.”


The extent of the capabilities of the county’s in-house facilities team came under question during the move to 700 Lavaca. In one exchange over facilities’ work on that project, Huber and Eckhardt both questioned department head Roger El-Khoury over contract delays (see In Fact Daily, Nov. 16, 2011).


Commissioners are hoping to hear more details about the project when the subject returns to the Court on Sept. 11.

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