by Anita Miller
Delays in Hays County’s jail renovation and communications center are being blamed on COVID-19 and designer errors.
The expansion and renovation of Hays County Jail and construction of a co-located emergency communications center was approved by voters in 2016.
The coronavirus, which could not have been expected, has resulted in a “domino effect” involving manpower, manufacturing and delivery across a variety of trades and systems, county commissioners learned recently.
Those delays have now pushed the expected completion date of some components of the public safety bond to early 2021.
However, the nearly $3 million change order the court was asked to approve resulted from a human error — namely, the absence within the jail design of a required system for the evacuation of smoke.
Cody Newsom and Brenda Jenkins of ECM International briefed the commissioners court on the status of the jail expansion/renovation on Uhland Drive and the emergency center on South Stagecoach Road, both in San Marcos.
The expected completion date has been pushed back on the majority of the components of the projects, with the final completion of the jail renovation not expected until February 2021. The earliest estimated completion date is July 25 for the training building.
Newsom said the problem with the smoke evacuation system was that equipment necessary for it to function was left out of the original design. Though it required using contingency funds, she said what is needed is being acquired, but is subject to the same delays in manufacturing and delivery because of COVID-19 as other elements of the public safety bond.
Newsom said the smoke evacuation system, which is required by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS), was initially “questioned” in October 2019 and recognized as a big problem by March 10. “Since then there’s been collaboration between all parties on how to correct this and move forward in the least disruptive manner.”
In addition to the missing equipment, a component that sends an alert when smoke is detected “doesn’t meet the original intent” and may require an upgrade.
Pct. 1 Commissioners Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe noted that the $2,853,997 is a “very large number” for a change order. However, the court seemed to agree to put problems on the back burner to be addressed once the buildings are occupied.
It’s possible, Ingalsbe and General Counsel Mark Kennedy said, some of the change order could be recouped. In particular, Kennedy noted that contractors and subcontractors are required to carry different forms of risk insurance.
“Having that discussion” about recouping money “while we wait on design and construction and implementation would be impractical,” Kennedy said.
Concerning the error, he said it is the “designer’s duty” to explain what happened. County Judge Ruben Becerra asked if the designer was in the courtroom and the answer was no. Moreover, Newsom said, no members of the design team still work for the company that took on the project.
Commissioners seemed in general agreement that the project should move forward, even though there may be additional change orders before everything is complete. “It’s too early to say yes or no,” Newsom said when Pct. 4 Commissioner Walt Smith asked if the change order would be the last.
“We are still evaluating. There are still a lot of unknowns … we don’t know what we’re going to find, but we really needed to really focus on finishing the project,” Newsom said.”
Ingalsbe called the situation unfortunate. “But I agree we need to move forward and get back as close to the original timeline as we can. We will pursue other actions as needed.”