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County staff could renovate building, some commissioners skeptical

Monday, September 17, 2012 by Michael Kanin

Officials with Travis County’s Facilities Management Department told members of the Travis County Commissioners Court last week that they could renovate the county’s Granger administrative building for roughly $10 million — less than half of the cost projected by a private firm.


Recently, Broaddus & Associates, the firm that is advising the county about a major, ongoing county facilities reorganization effort, projected somewhat more extensive renovations to the Granger building would cost about $23 million (in year of completion dollars).


Still, Commissioners Sarah Eckhardt and Karen Huber continued to push county facilities’ representatives on whether they can perform the renovation project. Eckhardt asked for square footage cost comparisons that would, she said, “greatly enhance our ability to gauge our success.” Huber questioned whether the facilities employees had the capability to deliver a full range of construction and engineering services – an issue that surfaced as commissioners continue to move down their roster of construction projects.


“I don’t know of any architectural firm in the world – except the ones large enough to have specialized divisions – that can be all things to all people,” Huber said. “When we have highly specialized components of a project, whether it be a courtroom or a cafeteria, people in the private sector go to those who are most specialized in doing these things.” 


The Granger Building, which formerly housed both the County’s Commissioners Court and commissioners’ offices, is set to be renovated as part of a large-scale redevelopment and reconfiguration of buildings that will become Travis County’s downtown campus. Broaddus has put together a master plan that details projects and cost estimates for the effort. Though county staffers are ready to bring it before commissioners, the plan will remain unapproved for at least another week.


The Broaddus figure for the renovation of the Granger building, roughly $16.5 million in today’s dollars – and $23 million at completion – is an ideal number. It covers a concurrent renovation of the Granger building that would necessitate its total vacation during the process. In addition to the renovation, the Broaddus’ cost estimate also includes elevator replacements and work that could be done to the building’s skin.


County Facilities’ pitch is for a staged project, something that would be completed as offices move in, out and around the Granger building. That approach would better suit the project, which will have to be spun around existing offices. Facilities’ version of the effort includes such major efforts as the replacement of the building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning, but does not cover elevator replacement or skin work.


Commissioner Ron Davis continued to support the in-house department. “In-house, we already have architects, engineers, qualified, working, earning … so I’d like to use ’em,” he said. “I’m going to stick hard to my position on that as we go through this process – and that means any of our buildings, wherever we use staff.”


As part of the Granger building renovation, work will be performed to move a cafeteria from the third floor to the first. This brought some concern from Huber and Eckhardt when commissioners last discussed the subject (see In Fact Daily, Sept. 4, 2012).


On Tuesday, Huber demanded proof of the county’s in-house facilities department’s ability to handle cafeteria construction. “I need the kitchens that you have done, and how many of them,” she said. Huber also asked for evidence of how well construction had gone on each of the facilities department’s kitchen projects.


Commissioners ended up unanimously approving only a work award to Fazzone Construction for the building’s second floor. It will cost just under $1.5 million.


Davis and Pct. 4 Commissioner Margaret Gomez tend to back the county’s facilities department. Eckhardt and Huber tend to question its efforts, with Huber often pushing hard against it.

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