County moving forward with construction projects

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The Austin County Commissioners received an update on three major construction projects Monday morning indicating that a lot of ground could be broken in the next few months.

Architect Kenny Burns informed the court that the county is about three months away from having contractors let bids on the revamped jail and the new justice center.

“At this point we’ve got to secure the approvals of the jail commission; the justice center’s a little easy, the jail takes a little more time because it’s more involved,” he said. “We’re at the point of doing lots of coordination between all the designers and engineers, et cetera, and finalizing our designs. We’ll wrap that up in about three months.”

The justice center, originally proposed to be connected to the jail, is now in flux as Judge Tim Lapham and the commissioners are considering moving it a short distance down the hill from the jail to avoid having to move a large electric transmission line. It was reported early that it would cost the county about $1 million to relocate the line.

The proposed location is on property that the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is preparing to vacate.

“We approached TxDOT with another option for the justice center,” Burns said. “We figured out how we can build the justice center on the TxDOT property facing Chesley Street without dislocating TxDOT. Since we know they plan to move anyway, we figured out how we could build the building around it, and once they’re gone then we can completely take out their buildings and all that kind of stuff and really open it up for you all to have a lot of future expansion.

“We think that’s a better site location facing Chesley than being tucked in behind the jail. Because if we do that, we don’t have to move that transmission line,” he said.

Before the county can settle on a site for the justice center, they need to hear from TxDOT.

“So, they could stay there a couple more years until they get their new facility built and we shouldn’t have any problems,” Burns said. “We just have to move their storage piles, that’s kind of where we need to go, but we were talking about doing that anyway. As long as we can keep them in their offices, it ought to work. It should save us a bunch of money. We just need them to give us an answer pretty quick.”

The other project is the new Emergency Medical Service building in Sealy.

“I’ve been waiting for a signed contract from the construction manager … The City of Sealy has told me the city will not perform the water flow test that we need for fire protection. They say we need a contractor to do it,” Burns said, noting that will not be a problem.

Getting a new EMS facility in Sealy has been discussed for several years. Now, thanks to a construction bond and having secured a good location, the county is ready to move.

“We’re not going to wait anymore. We’ve waited for all this; we’ve got the soils report and we know everything now. We plan to go forward as quickly as we can,” Burns said. “We’d like to be finished with those plans by the middle of August and turn those over to Christianson Building Group so they can bid it and we’ll get started.”

The commissioners received Burns’ report but had no action to take. Prior to the report, Judge Lapham presented the 2018 Distinguished Service Award to the Austin County Historical Commission. The award was received by Grace Holtcamp, who then gave a detailed report of the commission and its activities. The commissioners also heard a report about recent activities by the AgriLife Extension Agency by agent Michelle Wright.

The commissioners did approve the purchase of 19 new laptop computers for the sheriff’s office to replace older ones with software that will no longer be updated or secure after the end of the year.

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