Austin County to decide on justice center plans Dec. 27

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After hearing from two potential construction managers – ECM International and AG/CM – Austin County commissioners opted to postpone a decision on whether to hire a project manager for the planned justice center, EMS station and jail or just keep it under the umbrella of architect Kenny Burns.

Commissioners were advised that design for the facilities would likely begin in February and it will take about a year before construction starts.

Austin County voters approved in November a $17 million bond issue for the justice center. The county plans to refinance 2009 bonds and pay out reserves to cover needed repairs and new construction for the jail and EMS facility, for which about $9.5 million is budgeted.

Commissioners on Monday discussed the process for issuing certificates of obligation and general obligation bonds.

“One thing I’ve gotten some kickback from is the process by which we hired our construction manager,” said County Judge Tim Lapham. “When we were sitting here in court talking about it, I had another construction manager come by and didn’t even know we were in court. I’ve gotten a lot of pushback about how quick that happened.”

He invited representatives from AG/CM and ECM International to present pitches as to why they should oversee the county projects.

Ray Holland, construction manager for AG/CM, said his company considers itself an agent of the owner.

“First and foremost we would have to establish a budget before the design work even begins,” he said. “We’re an advocate for the project in planning and building departments. We firmly believe if this is done early on, change orders are cut to a minimum. Eighty percent of the decisions you make are done before it’s shovel-ready. It’s vital that you have someone watching your costs on a day-to-day basis.”

Holland met some resistance from the court when he was unable to identify what it would cost the county to hire them.

“We charge an hourly rate for what we do,” he said, offering to bring back specifics once the scope of the project is defined.

Brenda Jenkins, senior vice-president of ECM International, reviewed her credentials and said she reviewed the potential process and structure to ensure that the county gets what they pay for.

“We started looking at how we could reduce the risk, what is the appropriate design schedule, what is the appropriate construction schedule,” she said. “We have an execution plan that maximizes every day and every dollar.”

Precinct 1 Commissioner Mark Lamp said he is concerned about the potential expense.

“I like to know my costs up front,” he said. “How do we protect the interests of the county? I’m not a gambler. After asking several people we decided to bring in a second group. The people of this county need to know we tried to get the best value for their tax dollars.”

Precinct 4 Commissioner Doug King said choosing a construction manager comes down to the fees.

“Without knowing what their fees are, I don’t know how we can make a [decision],” King said.

Sheriff Jack Brandes and EMS Director Ron Dille agreed that architect Kenny Burns can manage the project.

“Kenny Burns knows what to do; he has a proven track record,” Brandes said. “I think that money can be spent on the project.”

Judge Lapham suggested that each commissioner speak individually with the two companies and determine how they want to proceed before court reconvenes Dec. 27.

“Do we trust the architect with the construction or are we going to bring in someone else?” he said.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Randy Reichardt pointed out that the cheapest option is not always the best.

“If you want quality work, you hire quality people,” he said. “Do I trust Kenny 100 percent? Yes I do. He’s been totally honest in everything he’s done. Do we need to hire someone else? When you spend this kind of money I think you need as many eyes on it that know what they’re doing as you can get. Does it cost more? Yes. But do we want to build a jail like was built before? We went through this 12 years ago. This county has always built stuff the cheapest way possible. Five years down the road it’s junk.”

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