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County benchmarks Civil-Family Courthouse budget at $284 million
Wednesday, September 11, 2013 by Charlotte Moore
Travis County’s Planning and Budget Office is working with a fresh target cost – a few tens of millions of dollars less than the original projection – for getting the new downtown Civil and Family Courthouse built.
On Tuesday, Commissioners Court set the benchmark budget at just over $284 million. Initial estimates had the construction cost at $340 million.
“That’s the best estimate we have right now until we move further into the process,” said Belinda Powell, strategic planning manager for the county. “We’re actually researching other court projects to see what their budgets are.”
The Civil and Family Courthouse is set to be built on prime county-owned land at 3rd and Guadalupe streets near
County officials have been debating this project for years, but are still very much in the planning stages. The $340 million price tag sparked a barrage of criticism and concern from citizens and the court itself. Late Monday, County Judge Sam Biscoe sent a memorandum to his fellow court members recommending they collectively ask county staff to perform comparison research.
Biscoe wrote, “In order to dilute some of the negative publicity that our courthouse is receiving and to place our estimated total cost in the appropriate context, I recommend that we ask appropriate county staff to survey officials connected to recently constructed courthouses in other jurisdictions…”
The point, Biscoe said, is to see an “apples to apples” cost comparison. Staff would consider aspects such as location, total square footage, total cost, cost per square foot, special features (like childcare facilities, technology, and inmate holding cells) and parking.
Customer service and satisfaction are also of concern to court members.
“I remember going to the
Gómez was also impressed with the
Powell informed the court that
Local retired accountant and author of the new blog AustinAffordability.com, Bill Oakey, may have been influential in getting the court to take this serious look at how other authorities have saved money on courthouse builds. Oakey has for the last few weeks held meetings with members of the court, including Judge Biscoe, to present them with independent research he has performed on a new 20-story, 714,000-square-foot, $213 million courthouse in
“I have done quite a bit of research on the
Oakey’s input appears to be having intended effect.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve encountered someone with that kind of community interest to spend his volunteer time down here helping the public as well as helping us by researching the cost issues around that courthouse,” said Pct. 2 Commissioner Bruce Todd. “That’s a true public servant.”
Powell and other staff members will continue their research and return before the court in about four weeks with comparisons. Powell’s cost figures are less than Oakey’s, yet high enough to compel staff to work on bringing them down.
“Right now our construction estimate runs us about $407 a square foot,” she said. “We’ll probably see that come under $400. It may even reach $350 before we are ready to go to the voters.”
At this point, there has been no decision made about when to place the item on the ballot.
“We are taking a complete look at the possibilities to make sure we have the lowest cost possible without sacrificing quality,” Commissioner Todd said. “It’s easy to make things cheap. It’s harder to make them cost efficient and effective in the long-term.”
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