Hidalgo County negotiates with proposed courthouse builder

EDINBURG — Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia and commissioner Eddie Cantu finished negotiating a contract with the proposed builder of the new courthouse at a workshop Monday before taking it to the rest of the commission for approval Tuesday.

Cantu led the negotiations with representatives from Morganti Texas Inc. after members of the commissioners court nominated him to do so at a meeting last month.

The Precinct 2 commissioner first began discussions with the proposed construction manager at risk last week via a two-hour teleconference with members of the company.

“We went item by item in the proposal they submitted,” he said. “And they were very amenable to a lot of the things that were brought up and recommended.”

Monday’s workshop was a continuation of those talks, though it appeared most of the negotiations had already been hashed out. Much of it stemmed from Morganti’s competitive bid.

“We were lucky that when Morganti first presented their proposal to us, that there were at least two other bids that looked like they were going to submit, and because two other companies were looking to submit, that made Morganti’s proposal competitive,” Cantu said about the firm, which was the sole bidder. “Had they’d known they were the only ones submitting, they could have taken advantage, which they didn’t.”

Morganti proposed earning a 2.2 percent fee for the construction cost of the courthouse, a 3 percent fee for any work done outside of the scope of the project, and less than a 1 percent fee for preconstruction services. Those figures fall below the industry standard, which range from 3.5 to 4.25 percent, said Brian McIntyre, a senior project manager from Jacobs who helped the county negotiate.

“I can say without a shadow of a doubt that we received this in the spirit of competition,” he said of Morganti’s proposal. “You’re getting a good square deal. Actually, it’s not a square deal. You’re getting a great deal.”

After a careful review of the proposal by Jacobs, the county’s program manager for the project, Morganti was able to cut out almost $250,000 in fees, McIntyre said.

If approved by the county, Morganti will play an integral role in the fine-tuning of the cost of the courthouse. As a construction manager at risk, the firm would be tasked with providing a guaranteed maximum price for the construction of the facility. That price will be set once 50 percent of the construction documents are drafted, which could happen by fall, Cantu said.

Currently, the cost of construction is estimated at $127 million, but that figure does not account for other costs associated with the project, such as the architect fees, furniture and soft costs, Garcia said.

“That number, by itself, puts us out of budget,” McIntyre said.

But all remained positive that estimate could be brought down closer to the mark, which initially put construction costs at about $100 million.

The construction method allows for the builder to get involved in the design phase so that they can help identify costs-saving avenues, such as value engineering, Cantu said.

The builder is essentially the last piece of the puzzle in trying to figure out the total cost of the project, which commissioners assured would not exceed $150 million. At the end of the day, there will be several estimates made. One will be made by Jacobs, the other by HDR architects and a third by the builder.

“Frankly, their number is going to be the best number,” McIntyre said of the three estimates. “The one number that we need the most is the one that is hinged on giving them the contract.”