Lake Travis city buildings need many upgrades, officials say

The West Lake Hills Police Department building (top) and Rollingwood city administrative building (bottom) are both in need of substantial upgrades according to officials from both cities. (Photos by Brian Rash/Community Impact)

The West Lake Hills Police Department building (top) and Rollingwood city administrative building (bottom) are both in need of substantial upgrades according to officials from both cities. (Photos by Brian Rash/Community Impact)

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The cities of Rollingwood and West Lake Hills share a similar problem—their municipal and police buildings are outdated and in need of substantial upgrades.

Officials in both cities are actively searching for solutions, but the path to completion for both is still a long way out. The strategies for both cities are surprisingly similar, as are the facilities needing upgrades. It helps that both cities are for the most part built out, at least to the point that major population upticks are not a factor in solution-finding strategies.

From the needs assessments they have commissioned to the company they hired to conduct those assessments to the options for financing, plans are underway, and big changes for both cities are likely coming within the next year or two.

Rollingwood

About two years ago in Rollingwood, officials discovered mold in the police department building attached to City Hall. All of the city’s police staff had to move out and into a temporary building at the same address in a portable building adjacent to City Hall.

The mold not only forced the temporary relocation of the police department, but it also propelled official discussion about what to do about its City Hall, which officials agree either needs a renovation into a more efficient and space-creating design or a complete tear-down and rebuild.

Rollingwood Alderman Gavin Massingill said City Council earmarked $300,000 in fiscal year 2017-18 for facilities updates but ultimately chose to not spend those dollars and instead hired a firm to conduct a professional needs assessment.

“For the upcoming FY 2018-19 budget year, we allocated $315,000 for City Hall and police department facility improvements,” Massingill said. “Those funds will either be directed toward planning or interim construction or a down payment on a larger project.”

After an interview process, officials hired the firm Brinkley Sargent Wiginton Architects in December 2017 because it offered a spatial needs assessment, according to City Administrator Amber Lewis. In September of this year the company provided City Council with several layouts within two options—a total tear-down and rebuild or a partial remodel with a new addition to the existing structure.

Lewis said Brinkley Sargent Wiginton has not designed any final plans for a new building, but its assessment did conclude that for Rollingwood’s administrators, officers and employees to operate effectively, they would need about 8,500 square feet. Currently the police department and municipal building contain less than half that total at 3,780 square feet.

Now city leaders are waiting on a cost assessment for both options from Brinkley Sargent Wiginton, which should come during the Oct. 17 City Council meeting, according to Lewis.

“Here’s the bottom line: We’re either going to spend several hundred thousand dollars for a Band-Aid fix that may last 10 years before more is needed, or we spend several million on a long-term solution that could last another 50 years,” Massingill said. “Both options have pros and cons. But either way, we can’t leave our entire police department in a portable building forever.”

Massingill said there are two funding routes the city could take depending on which option leaders select— cash for a short-term fix and debt for a long-term fix. He added he is not sure how Rollingwood residents will feel about the issue but looks forward to finding out.

“I suspect many of them will have mixed emotions as I do—not eager to agree to long-term debt, but not wild about a short-term fix either,” he said. “At the end of the day it will be the community’s call because our cash-on-hand only goes so far.”

West Lake Hills

There are two buildings in West Lake Hills that require upgrades—the police building and administration building. Officials are in the process of securing a needs assessment for both.

Robert Wood, West Lake Hills city administrator, said City Council reached a consensus during open meetings at the end of 2017 that if the city obtains the needed funding then the police building will be torn down and rebuilt, and at a minimum, the administration building will need to be remodeled and possibly torn down and rebuilt. Wood said that under either scenario the desired end result would be one building.

City documents state that the police department building was built in 1982. Initially administration was on the first floor, and the police department and municipal court were on the second floor. West Lake Hills Mayor Linda Anthony said it was built to residential specs, not made for full-time use nor specifically to be used to house a police department.

A new building was completed next to the original police building in 1991, during which time the municipal court and administration moved into the new facility and the police department expanded into the first floor of the original building. In the last 27 years, several components of both buildings have become outdated, including walkway ramps and a front porch, both of which were condemned and then repaired around 2009.

Wood said there is now an extensive list of problems attributed to both buildings, included but not limited to access issues under the Americans with Disabilities Act, structural problems, mold and heating, ventilation and air conditioning replacements.

About two years ago West Lake Hills officials began a needs assessment for the buildings and, just like in Rollingwood, they were presented with either a remodel or rebuild option. City leaders decided not to go with the company they hired for that assessment, but the data presented are telling.

A September 2017 email from the firm Studio8 Architects to Wood states that if officials wanted to start building by 2019, the city would expect to pay around $2.3 million to $2.5 million for a combination of options.

Wood said that those numbers seem low, and officials are now waiting for the first draft of a new needs assessment for its administration buildings through Brinkley Sargent Wiginton.

“Our building code is tough, and it’s part of what makes our residential area so nice and appealing and so private, but it also has some challenges for us that we’re finding that we will have to deal with,” Anthony said.

West Lake Hills officials have also recently completed a drainage master plan and road repaving assessment. Anthony said the administrative and police buildings are the last piece of the puzzle to the city’s overarching infrastructure overhaul.

Council will likely be looking at a potential bond election in November 2019 to pay for the entire package, she said.

“It didn’t make sense to me to go to the voters and say, ‘We need money for drainage and roadways,’ and not deal with administrative facilities,” Anthony said. “It’s all infrastructure, and rather than go piecemeal, I felt it was best to go all at once.”

Anthony said that a preliminary needs assessment from Brinkley Sargent Wiginton should come in November, and cost estimates for the city administrative building should come at the beginning of 2019.

City Council has already allocated $200,000 into its 2018-19 budget to pay Brinkley Sargent Wiginton for a variety of services, including the initial needs assessment.

Another question in terms of financing involves whether to go after a 20- or 30-year bond, depending on which decision is most economically viable for West Lake Hills taxpayers.

“These decisions will have to be made in 2019,” Wood said. “Because we’ll have to have a number to go to the voters in November of 2019, but the work would likely not happen before 2020.”
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