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Travis County Asks: Can You Help Us Build Our Courthouse?

Photo by Eric Reyna/KUT News
Travis County Commissioners want to build a new courthouse to replace the 80-year-old Heman Sweatt Courthouse building at 10th and Guadalupe.

Travis County wants assistance in planning their new civil and family courthouse. “We are currently analyzing how to finance and build the new courthouse and develop the site in the way that is most cost-effective and responsive to the community,” they write in a release promoting a community meeting next week. But it sounds like there’s also dissension on the Travis County Commissioner’s Court about how to proceed.

In December 2010, the county purchased land at 308 Guadalupe, a parking lot bounded by Third, Fourth, Guadalupe and San Antonio. The Austin American-Statesman reported the purchase price at $22 million.

The following spring, the county asked for pitches from developers on how to build – and more importantly, how to finance – the project.

The county asked specifically for “P3” pitches, meaning public/private partnerships.

“The intent of the P3 contracting approach would be to significantly reduce Travis County’s cost and to deliver the project more quickly and with quality long-term design, construction, maintenance, and/or operations of the new facility,” county staff writes. They received 21 responses.

Later that spring, the county issued a separate request, this time looking for “an Advisory Team to assist in determining the feasibility of utilizing a P3 contracting approach for the development of the new Courthouse building” – essentially, a group to wade through the 21 responses they received earlier.

January 3, Travis County Commissioner’s Court named Ernst & Young to act as their advisors, at a cost of $450,000. However, the decision was less than unanimous: Two members of the five member court, Margaret Gomez and Karen Huber, voted "nay." Gomez and Huber also voted "nay" on a legal contract related to the Ernst & Young agreement at their meeting yesterday.  

Ernst & Young will be the consultants on hand Tuesday, Jan. 17, at the Travis County Commissioners Court (312 W. 11th). The county says an additional outreach meeting is scheduled Feb. 1.

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.