San Antonio: The Incredible Shrinking Federal Courthouse
Texas Construction News from Virtual Builders Exchange
by Adolfo Pesquera
San Antonio (Bexar County) – A revised plan for the new San Antonio federal courthouse is in the works that is substantially smaller in actual size compared to previously presented concepts.
The Fort Worth regional office of the General Services Administration held an outreach meeting in San Antonio on Wednesday for general contractors in order to gauge what interest there would be in doing the project through a design-build delivery method.
The outreach meeting came as something of a surprise given the fact that just over 11 months ago the GSA awarded the construction contract to Austin-based White Construction Co.
White Construction, however, is no longer with the project.
Several perspectives of the revised courthouse design, presented during a GSA outreach meeting Oct. 25.
There have been so many changes that differ with descriptions previously reported in the media, as recently as April of this year, that it would probably be best to start with a before/after comparison list:
(1) The project budget has been reported to be as high at $144 million, although in September 2016 GSA Contracting Officer Lisa Byrd said it was between $109.6 million and $119.6 million. At Wednesday’s meeting, Byrd said the budget maximum was $121 million for design and construction. Some of this confusion arose from a GSA spring 2016 press release that stated the Administration had plans to allocate $132,581,000 for the construction of the new courthouse.
(2) The courthouse was originally to be 305,000 square feet comprised of two wings, with the south wing being five stories in height. The revised design presented by Muñoz & Company is limited to three stories and has a gross square footage of 225,127 square feet, a reduction of 79,873 square feet.
(3) The design circulated in 2015-2016 had underground parking. The new design no longer has underground parking; 90 surface parking spaces will be provided for courthouse staff, with 20 of the spaces being enclosed and reserved for judges. This is a reduction of 74 parking spaces.
(4) The original designs gave the impression that, structurally, the building would be of a conventional steel/concrete frame construction with a finished exterior of roughback leuders stone and glass. However, Joseph Benjamin, a Lake|Flato associate partner and consultant to Muñoz on the project, said the new design would use a tilt wall system over concrete slab on grade.
Tilt wall construction is widely used in commercial construction for retail centers, office buildings and warehouses because of the cost savings. It is unusual for a prestige project such as a federal courthouse.
A participant at Wednesday’s meeting asked if tilt wall had ever been used for a federal courthouse. Benjamin responded that, “It’s been done before, but we can do it better.”
(5) During the original selection process for a contractor, GSA officials stated the construction documents would be completed by November 2017 and construction would begin by December 2017 or January 2018. Later reports claimed the project would break ground in time for the city’s Tricentennial festivities in the spring of 2018.
The process of revising the designs and the search for a new design-build team has pushed the construction start date by many months. The selection of a design-build team will proceed in two phases.
This outdoor courtyard corridor between the two wings of the original design is being replaced with an enclosed atrium.
Byrd said the GSA would formally solicit qualifications by the first week of December. Responses will be due in mid-January 2018.
The short list of firms considered for an invitation to submit proposals would be limited to three companies. They will be notified the third week of February, she said.
“There will be a pre-proposal conference at some point,” Byrd said, adding that the proposals will be due in mid-June. This part of the process will involve oral presentations that will be given at the GSA’s Fort Worth office.
The three firms competing in the second phase will be required to produce preliminary designs. Each firm will be given a stipend of $20,000 to defray the cost of their design work. In addition, they will be referencing designs provided by Muñoz to the GSA as bridging documents.
Attendees were told that Muñoz, which is also now the construction manager on the project, would have more responsibility on the design of certain key areas that are most visible to the public. These include the exterior, the courtrooms, the lobby, and an atrium that is situated within the west facade and overlooks San Pedro Creek; the San Antonio River Authority is in the process of converting that section of the creek into a linear park. Muñoz will also produce more detailed designs for the judges chambers.
The selected design-build team will be primarily responsible for finishing designs on the rest of the building.
The GSA anticipates it will award the contract by mid-August 2018.
The new courthouse is to be built on a 7-acre site in the west end of downtown that was formerly home to the headquarters of the San Antonio Police Department. It is needed to replace the antiquated John H. Wood Jr. Federal Courthouse, which was built in 1967-1968. It was originally the United States Pavilion in the 1968 world’s fair (Hemisfair ’68), and later converted to a courthouse.
The revised site plan portrays the outline of a three-story building with a smaller parking lot and no underground parking.
Adolfo Pesquera (Reporter/Editor) is a veteran news journalist. He has worked for Hearst Corp., American Lawyer Media, News Corp and Freedom Communications. His work has been published in newspapers and magazines across the USA. He is a journalism graduate of UT-RGV. He writes, edits and creates digital pages for VBX.