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Austin Energy Facilities Master Plan looks to relocate key buildings

Tuesday, April 25, 2017 by Sommer Brugal

Austin Energy presented an update of its Facilities Master Plan at the Austin Energy Utility Oversight Committee Monday morning. The main goal of the plan, according to Mark Dombroski, deputy general manager and chief financial and risk officer at Austin Energy, is to improve services to customers.

According to Dombroski, the company has been looking to improve its facilities for some time. Back in 2014, he said, Austin Energy brought forth a request for City Council action concerning new office parking. Council did not approve the request, but it served as groundwork for the current master plan.

“Since that time we’ve been doing strategic planning both internally as well with a third-party real estate expert,” said Dombroski. Since then, he said, the company has worked to resolve the concerns at hand.

The Master Plan, which is designed to turn Austin Energy’s leased spaces into owned spaces and to provide a more functional, environmentally responsible workplace, tackles one of the major challenges the company is currently facing: growth.

The Town Lake Center on Barton Springs is Austin Energy’s corporate office and utility center. It is about 126,000 sq. ft. and is part of the total space the company currently owns. Housed in that building is the utility contact center and customer service staff.

“Right now our contact center and customer service (staff) are growing,” Dombroski said. “In order to meet that growth, we’ve used conference rooms and training rooms and reconfigured them to hold our customer service staff.”

Based on a study conducted to understand what an improved office space would look like and how the space would function, the corporate office spaces will require 200,000 sq. ft. Austin Energy also needs restructuring and expansion of its current warehouse property on Ryan Drive, located just west of the intersection of North Lamar Boulevard and Airport Boulevard, and 5,000 sq. ft. of additional space for a customer payment center to service a growing South Austin customer base. All three spaces would be at separate locations serving different functions.

Under the Master Plan, staff members at both the Town Lake Center and Austin Energy’s 811 building would be relocated to a new building. Doing so, said Dombroski, would consolidate the workforce, reduce expenses and reduce traffic congestion in the downtown area. According to Dombroski, the most cost effective plan is total relocation. Staying in these locations, he said, is estimated to cost well over the price estimates for the Master Plan over a 30-year time period.

Despite the anticipated cost effectiveness of the plan, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo expressed some concern related to the Ryan Drive location. She said previous committees and Council discussed other possibilities for the land, like affordable and family friendly housing.

“I certainly think that tract is a key tract to consider for what kinds of community benefits we might achieve,” said Tovo. She urged her colleagues to fully discuss other opportunities before moving forward.

In response, Austin Energy said that specific tract wouldn’t be part of the Request for Proposal for the corporate office, utility contact center, indoor warehouse and adjunct laydown yard. The utility did say, however, that it hopes to bring back some facilities that meet the goals Council has set forth, and that it’s looking to combine uses for different groups to work together at its facilities.

Austin Energy plans to move forward with its search for new locations for its current offices and is scheduled to return to City Council in the fall of 2017.

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