The Huntsville Item, Huntsville, TX

Local News

April 30, 2013

County OKs courthouse plaza project

HUNTSVILLE — County officials have decided to move forward with the Walker County Courthouse plaza project despite it costing more than originally anticipated.

The Commissioners Court voted three to one during a special session Monday morning to approve an additional $15,000 to be added to the fund for the project to get the ball rolling on construction. The project, which is in part being funded through a grant from the Houston-Galveston Area Council, had been on hold for a few months after the county received only one bid from a local contractor willing to take on the construction.

Planning and Development Director Andrew Isbell told the court that the purchasing department had explored all options to lower the expense of the project, but those efforts had been exhausted. The project will add more outside seating areas and beautification objects on the east entrance side of the courthouse and also help the building be more accommodating to people with disabilities.

The court did not want to squander the HGAC grant, so officials made the decision to add more money to the budgeted fund Monday.

“We will risk losing funds from the HGAC, and that doesn’t look good to give back funds that were awarded to us,” Pct. 4 Commissioner Tom Paulsel said.

Pct. 1 Commissioner B.J. Gaines Jr., Paulsel and County Judge Danny Pierce voted to approve the measure. Pct. 2 Commissioner Ronnie White voted against, but did not give a reason. Pct. 3 Commissioner Bobby Warren was not present at Monday’s meeting to vote.

Isbell informed the court back in January that the only bid the county received for construction of the project was $11,520 more than what officials had budgeted for. The additional $3,480 the commissioners approved for the project Monday is to cover an 8 percent contingency fund.

“I recommend that if we are going to move forward that we have a $3,000 contingency because you never know what you will run into on the project,” Isbell said Monday.

It looks like the county will be able to use some of the funds left over from the District Attorney’s Building re-roofing project. That construction came in under budget, but there are still some things to be completed before the court knows exactly how much can be moved to the courthouse plaza.

The commissioners will vote at the next court meeting to approve the construction company’s bid for the plaza project. The contractor has locked in a price for 30 days because of concerns the cost of concrete will go up.

The cost of the plaza project is $43,500 with $17,400 of that for materials and the remaining $26,100 for labor. The HGAC grant is providing $15,990 toward materials. The Walker County-Huntsville Chamber of Commerce and Walker County Proud are each contributing $1,500 to the project.

The court also on Monday approved the leasing of the county’s facility at 344 Highway 75 North by the Walker County Community Agency. The building used to house the United Way of Walker County, which no longer exists.

Kay Cooks, the former director of the county’s United Way, said Monday that the local board voted to leave the national agency and form the Walker County Community Agency.

The national United Way agency had wanted Walker County to merge with Montgomery County.

“They told us that the money we raise in Walker County would go to Montgomery County and that we would only get a portion of that,” Cooks said. “We want to keep all that money in this community to help the people in need here.”

Cooks told the court that the Walker County Community Agency will actually be more beneficial to Walker County since it will not have to pay dues to the state and national United Way.

“The United Way had restrictions on who could be helped and how much could be given out,” Cooks said. “Now we will be able to help more people whether they need help paying utility bills or need gas money. I interview those who come to us to make sure they really need our help.”

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