County negotiates $4.5 million price tag for courthouse

EDINBURG — Hidalgo County commissioners negotiated a $4.5 million price tag for the firm that will oversee the construction of the new county courthouse.

Commissioners met with representatives of Jacobs Management Consultants on Thursday to iron out details of their potential agreement during a public workshop. The meeting lasted about an hour — relatively short when compared to the previous negotiation attempts.

The county and the firm have been countering figures since their last meeting in early May when the county opted to move on to the second-ranked firm as a result of an FBI raid on Dannenbaum Engineering Corp, the county’s first option.

“I’m very satisfied with where we are today,” Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia said after the meeting. “We’ve got a great qualified firm. They have built 57 federal courthouses and over 20 county courthouses throughout the country. So they are experienced and I feel comfortable that they will be doing a good job for us in the construction of our facility.”

The firm initially asked for $6.1 million for its oversight work, and the county countered with $3.25 million to include all costs. The negotiations continued until both entities felt comfortable with a lump sum of $4.5 million that will include all reimbursable expenses, like travel.

“That can equal to several hundred thousand dollars,” Garcia said.

The firm will oversee the commissioning of the building, but not perform the task of ensuring all systems are working appropriately.

Hidalgo County Commissioner Eddie Cantu raised two important issues during the workshop. He questioned how the firm had been able to reduce their price tag from $6.1 million to $4.5 million without affecting the services the county requested.

Larry Strader, regional representative for Jacobs, told commissioners the firm had gone back to the drawing board to make adjustments to several services, including engineering, scheduling and inspection.

Instead of having someone work full-time locally, the company will use existing resources at other sites. The firm also removed the community outreach component of the deal, Strader said.

It’s not the company’s responsibility to keep residents informed, Garcia said. It’s the county’s job.

Cantu also pointed out a clause that indemnifies the firm from any wrongdoing, a major point of contention between the two entities.

“No one is entitled to indemnity,” Garcia told Strader.

Strader pledged to speak to the firm’s legal department about it and after the meeting, Garcia said a deal would not be struck unless the firm removed the clause that absolves it from any issues that may arise.

Strader also promised big returns on the county’s multi-million investment. Jacobs has saved money for clients and has documented more than $1 billion in savings, he told the commissioners.

Both entities discussed possible timelines for the project and agreed that an architect and the construction manager at risk should be engaged as soon as possible to finalize plans and validate the price tag of the courthouse.

Once a guaranteed maximum price is set, the county will be able to sell bonds and begin moving even further with the project.

“When can we start shoveling ground,” one of the commissioners asked Strader.

“Well, we can put a shovel in the ground next week,” he replied. “Let’s not forget we also have to take down the other courthouse.”

Garcia said the county was able to save over $4 million or approximately 47 percent when compared to Dannenbaum’s original proposal of $8.5 million, which did not include commissioning or reimbursable expenses.

“I’m ready to go,” Cantu said shortly before the meeting concluded.

“I feel comfortable,” Hidalgo County Commissioner Joseph Palacios concurred.

Nlopez@themonitor.com