Travis County courthouse preservation master plan moves forward

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The Travis County Commissioners Court took its first step Jan. 5 to address outdated features and necessary repairs at the Heman Marion Sweatt Courthouse following voters’ rejection of bond funding for a proposed new civil and family courts complex, or CFCC, in November.

The court unanimously approved Jan. 5 submitting a draft of the ­Heman Marion Sweatt Courthouse Preservation Master Plan, which essentially states the county wants to continue to use the building as a “courts asset,” said Belinda Powell, strategic planning manager for the Travis County Planning and Budget Office.

“We’ve been working on this plan for a number of years,” she said. “We were hopeful we’d be in a position to draw down some grant funds right away, … but since [the courthouse]will still be fully occupied we have a little more time, and I think the team feels like that’s a benefit to us.”

The approval of the plan is a first step in a long process, Powell said. The planning and budget office is examining alternative funding strategies such as grants, but the county cannot apply for the next round of grant funding because the master plan was not approved in time, she said. The timeline for the rollout of the preservation master plan has not been identified because it will depend on securing funding from the court as well as gaining community feedback about objectives, Powell said.

Travis County courts complex

The proposed Travis County civil and family courts complex would have been located adjacent to Republic Square Park in downtown Austin. (via Rendering courtesy HOK)

County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said the court would seek guidance from legal counsel on how to handle proposals related to developing county-owned land on Guadalupe Street in Austin that was previously considered for a CFCC site.

“We are receiving a tremendous number of phone calls and suggestions from the private sector with regard to partnership [and potential]utilization of the block that we own,” she said.

In the same meeting, the court unanimously voted to approve terminating a request for quotation, or RFQ, related to the design and construction of the proposed CFCC.

Assistant Purchasing Agent Marvin Brice said the court had previously awarded a contract to local design firm HOK to assist in the development of the CFCC.

“What we would like to do is suspend HOK’s contract at this time until the court has made a decision as to which direction we want to head on the project,” he said.

If the county simply terminated its contract with HOK and then decided to move forward with a design-build scenario at another location, for example, it would have to go through a procurement process again rather than being able to pick up where it left off with HOK, Brice said.

The court voted 3-0-1 to suspend the HOK contract. Commissioner Ron Davis abstained and Commissioner Brigid Shea was off the dais.

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Kelli joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter and has been covering Southwest Austin news since July 2012. She was promoted to editor of the Southwest Austin edition in April 2015. In addition to covering local businesses, neighborhood development, events, transportation and education, she is also the beat reporter covering the Travis County Commissioners Court.
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