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Study: Austin needs to revamp facilities

Tuesday, October 23, 2012 by Michael Kanin

A study presented Thursday to members of the Austin City Council suggests major changes in the way the city manages its infrastructure and operational standing. Key findings from the lengthy report include recommendations to renovate the One Texas Center building and to construct a new, downtown Public Safety Headquarters.


The study, which looks forward 15 years, also suggests that, thanks to neglect, some city facilities are beyond repair. As such, the report says, the city should “dispose of any facilities that are more expensive to maintain than to retrofit or build new.”


Other suggestions include centralizing city facilities’ operations under one department with a dedicated budget, and reconfigure its fleet operations to cut costs and its carbon footprint. The latter effort alone, predicted consultants with RSP i-Space, could save the city $2.6 million annually.


The study, which included reviews of over $1 billion of city assets, cost the city $1.4 million, according to city spokesperson Samantha Park.


RSP’s Mike Lynart urged Council Members to look at the upfront expenditures as an investment in city facilities that would ultimately save taxpayers money. Council Member Mike Martinez delivered the retort. “How much do we have to spend before we start saving?” he asked.


That answer was not readily available. “That’s the next step,” said Lynart.


The report offers a blunt picture of city facilities. “The deferred, or in some cases non-existent, maintenance of the current portfolio of aging facilities is resulting in the degradation of property value, frequently to the point that repair and or renovation will exceed the cost of new construction,” it reads.


To solve this problem, RSP suggests that the city centralize its facilities’ operations under the control of one office. “It is clear that city staff are doing the best they can under the circumstances, and that the centralization of the facilities maintenance and management structure would empower the city to get in front of existing problems before they reach crisis status,” the report suggests.


The study also suggests that better building inventory control would allow Austin officials to better manage its real estate assets. It further criticizes the city’s real estate strategy, and urges Council members to adopt a strategic plan for facilities use.


As part of his presentation, Lynart said that developing a strategic plan could be Austin’s next step, guiding city officials as they figure out financial and funding strategies, and to determine what projects it could accomplish in the near term.


Council Member Chris Riley honed in on that idea. He wondered if Lynart could offer “any points short” of the 15-year horizon imagined by the study.


The city’s Building Services Officer, Eric Stockton, mentioned improving One Texas Center, where Austin’s Transportation, Public Works, and Planning and Development Review departments are housed. “There are some things that are fairly obvious, near-term issues,” Stockton offered.


Council Member Bill Spelman ended the briefing with a loaded question. “Did this report surprise you?” he asked.


The city’s building services officer, Eric Stockton, offered a simple reply. “Ah, no.”

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