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Travis County Searches for A/E Firm to Renovate Historic Federal Courthouse

Texas Construction News from Virtual Builders Exchange

Posted: 5-5-2017, 4:14 p.m.

by Adolfo Pesquera

Austin (Travis County) – Travis County will be collecting Requests for Qualifications later this month for architectural and engineering firms that respond to a need for services to renovate and restore the historic federal courthouse at West 8th and Lavaca streets.

As reported in VBX last year, Commissioners Court sought and ultimately obtained title to the retired U.S. Courthouse building on West 8th Street. The county had earlier failed to get voter approval to finance a new courthouse, and as an alternative is planning to renovate the old courthouse, in order to relocate the functions of its probate court system and the Travis County Clerk’s Office.

The RFQ was issued April 13 and submittals are due May 17. The design phase is expected to begin this year. The county wants to begin construction in 2018 and have the building available for occupancy by 2020.

The courthouse is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and renovation plans are subject to review by the Texas Historical Commission and the National Park Service.

The stated goals of the county include a plan that would allow use of the courthouse through 2035. The county expects interior designs that are:

  • Durable and easy to maintain
  • Secure for staff and the public
  • Integrate the historic nature of the building, but has abundant light
  • Able to support open planning where appropriate

There are several unresolved issues. The RFQ notes that Wi-Fi will be available to the public, but Commissioners Court was undecided on Wi-Fi for staff. The volume of on-site storage for probate records is unknown. Also undecided is the location, or whether there will be a security office.

The courthouse, built in 1936, is an example of Depression-era Moderne architecture. The interior has a mix of Art Moderne and Art Deco finishes. The lobby has mauve pink marble walls, geometrically patterned terrazzo floors, suspended plaster ceilings with white bronze moldings, a semi-circular staircase with bronze handrail and walls clad in marble wainscot.

The 36th president of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, maintained a congressional office (and later a senatorial office) in the courthouse from the 1940s until 1961.

Structurally, the building is a cast in place concrete beam and joist structure built in 1935. Cladding is limestone, possibly backed with clay tile. It is four floors with a basement, and has a central core area with two short wings.

A 2014 General Services Administration survey found no signs of structural distress or areas of structural concern. However, the GSA found the mechanical systems near the end of their useful service, and depending on which system would need overhaul or replacement within the next seven years.

Configuring space for its future missions will be a challenge. A Gensler study determined the building as currently configured has 36,790 Usable Square Feet:

  • Basement    5,702 USF
  • First Floor    9,243 USF
  • Second FL    8,859 USF
  • Third Floor    6,555 USF
  • Fourth FL    6,431 USF

However, the estimated total space required for the Probate Courts and County Clerk functions is 37,729 USF.

There was a pre-proposal conference. Based on information from the attendance sheet, the following companies expressed interest.



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About the Author:

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.

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