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Commissioners delay action on DA’s office complex

Wednesday, February 18, 2015 by Caleb Pritchard

Two absences at the Travis County Commissioners Court on Tuesday forced a delay on a decision over a building to house the district attorney’s office.

Commissioners Ron Davis and Gerald Daugherty were not on the dais, leaving a three-person quorum with Judge Sarah Eckhardt and Commissioners Margaret Gomez and Brigid Shea. Davis was attending a continuing education class required for county commissioners, and Daugherty was out of the state on personal business.

Early on in Tuesday’s meeting, Eckhardt announced the court would wait until the absent Commissioners returned before taking formal action on a dispute over the proposed construction costs for the Ronnie Earle Building at 416 West 11th St. But the court did listen to a report from the firm hired to re-examine the $45 million estimate presented by the Oklahoma-based contractor Flintco last year.

Purchasing Agent Cyd Grimes told Commissioners that she asked construction consultant Halford Busby to create a new bid from scratch, and the firm came back with an estimate of $43 million. The proposed seven-story building includes 130,000 square feet of office space, three levels of underground parking and a pedestrian tunnel providing subterranean access to the Travis County Justice Complex across the street.

Facilities Management Director Roger El Khoury recommended canceling the contract with Flintco and opening up the project to bids from other contractors. He contends that the guaranteed maximum price offered by Flintco is well higher than the $34.5 million budget determined by his office with help from downtown Austin architectural firm Page.

El Khoury told Commissioners they could find a better deal by soliciting new bids for the project, a position with which Grimes strongly disagreed. She claims that any lower estimate would fail to take into account contingencies already worked into Flintco’s estimate.

Flintco executive John Martin told Commissioners that the county would receive any leftover money should it turn out that his firm overestimated any costs. He added that switching to an open-bid process would change the rule book and steer that money into the hands of contractors and subcontractors.

Martin also waded into the weeds to explain how his firm came up with some estimated costs that are, according to the Facilities Management Department, substantially higher than normal rates. After a statement packed with contractor jargon, Eckhardt interrupted him.

“In layman’s terms, you estimate an anticipated pain-in-the-butt with regards to subsurface piping,” said Eckhardt.

“Yes ma’am,” he replied.

“Just checking,” Eckhardt answered.

A final vote on the fate of Flintco’s proposal has not yet been scheduled.

 

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