County extends debate on project manager for new buildings

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Austin County commissioners continued discussions Dec. 27 on plans for a justice center, jail and emergency medical services facility.

The county has hired Kenny Burns as its architect and Gaeke Construction as a construction manager but hasn’t yet settled on whether a project manager is needed. While commissioners originally delegated that responsibility to County Judge Tim Lapham, who selected ECM International to serve as project manager, the judge said he received a lot of criticism from the public for how quickly the decision was made. Burns also has pointed out that his firm can handle the duties that a project manager would oversee – such as engineering and utilities. The cost to hire a project manager would have to be taken away from the budget for the building, Burns added during the Dec. 27 meeting.

“We’ve set a budget and we have to live within it,” he said. “We can’t go start creating something that is bigger than what we proposed; that is the deal you made with the taxpayers.”

Burns recommended that a local person who has a background in architecture, engineering or construction could serve as a consultant, and a committee overseeing the project also could be beneficial as long as a commissioner serves on it.

In addition to ECM International, a second project management firm, AG/CM, also has submitted a proposal. Representatives from ECM and AG/CM attended the most recent commission meeting.

Commissioners ultimately opted not to hire a project manager but said they were open to revisiting the matter once more detailed plans are in place.

The county has attempted for months to negotiate with Sealy on plans for a land swap or purchase in order to build an EMS facility, although at least two other properties also are in play, Lapham said.

“The city of Sealy was given until [Jan.] 10, and I think they said they would have to us by the 7th what they want for that piece of property,” he said. “That’s the main thing, is what it appraises for, what they want for that. Anybody who has a piece of property they want us to consider, we need a hard number for that by the 10th.”

A $17 million bond issue was approved in November for the justice center, and the county plans to finance new construction for the jail and EMS facility to the tune of about $9.5 million.

Commissioners Randy Reichardt and Mark Lamp appeared to want to move forward without a project manager – instead having those duties fall under the umbrella of Burns’ team.

“There’s a few things that we definitely need to iron out,” Lamp said. “Right now people are guessing and we don’t need any more guessing. We need to start putting boots on the ground.”

Commissioner Bobby Rinn and Judge Lapham said they’d like to revisit the matter.

“I think we do need one but we need to figure out the direction first,” Lapham said.

Commissioners have said that design work for the facilities will likely begin in February and it will take about a year before construction starts. Sheriff Jack Brandes and EMS Director Ron Dille have said they believe Burns and his employees can manage the project.

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