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2012 APD bond projects appear to be stalled on many sides

Friday, February 2, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

Generally, if a bond is issued with a specific project in mind, when the money is awarded, the city gives a project team five years to complete whatever project the taxpayers are funding. That is, of course, unless the costs of the project were arbitrarily estimated and the team runs out of funds before the project can get off the ground.

Unfortunately, Austin Police Department has found itself mired down with this issue on not one, but three different projects.

“What we have here is an abject failure in project management,” said Bond Oversight Commissioner Sumit DasGupta at the commission’s Jan. 31 meeting.

When the APD received $11.5 million, or 37 percent, of the $31 million from the 2012 Prop 16 Public Safety Bond, it planned to spend the money on creating a new police sub-station in Northwest Austin, building a joint-use facility for the park rangers and park patrol, and constructing facilities for the mounted police and their horses.

While the hunt for the proper piece of land for a new substation continues and the joint-use facility is stalled until more bond money comes in, the facilities for the mounted police find themselves in even more dire straits.

Craig Russell, an architect and project manager from the Public Works Department who oversees the project that is located on 88 acres at 11400 McAngus Road just down the street from the Circuit of the Americas track, said that roadblocks began with a cost analysis of the project that was done in September 2014. “We identified a $1 million shortfall in site development costs,” he explained. At that point, to try and correct the course of the project, Public Works and APD spent a year trying to scale back the project to try to work within the targeted budget.

Instead, however, “The police department took money from other projects and funneled it to this one,” explained Russell. “Anything that we subtracted out of it, was not going to make it the functional facility it needed to be.”

Now, instead of the original $3.6 million construction budget, APD’s Financial Services Manager Michelle Schmidt said that the project requires $6.9 million, and that number’s climbing. Due to the “unprecedented” costs of construction in Central Texas, she explained that the $6.9 million will only cover the construction of the stables and offices for the officers. None of the training facilities or corrals can be built without further alternative funding.

With raised eyebrows, Commissioner Duke Browne asked, “So it could be nearer to $8 million rather than $6.9 million?”

Chair Keri Burchard‐Juarez noted that this is a perfect example of what happens when site development cost estimates are not done before bond funding is requested. “It’s putting staff in a no-win situation where they cannot meet schedule or budget,” she said.

Not only are these facilities over budget, but their construction is being stalled by Travis County’s refusal to grant the use of Towery Lane, an easement associated with the construction site. “We did not anticipate the county to ask to be compensated to transfer that easement over to APD,” said John Daniels, facility planning manager at APD. Russell agreed that the county’s insistence on payment – the road was appraised at $133,000 – has “complicated some of our issues.”

Indignant at the nearly 100 percent cost increase of this project, DasGupta spoke for the citizens saying, “We have to think in terms of taxpayers. They’re the ones footing the bill.”

Commissioner Linda Guerrero asked, “Is there any chance you would cut your losses and sell it for a soccer stadium to be built there?”

Despite the chuckles this raised with commissioners, Schmidt replied that “APD has no intention of squashing the project.”

Rendering of proposed facility courtesy of the city of Austin.

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