McLennan County will spend about $1 million buying two downtown Waco buildings, the deals creating parking space near the courthouse and room for storing construction material during a remodel to create more courtroom space.
The city of Waco owns the structures at 415 Columbus Ave. and at 1211 Washington Ave., for which the county is poised to pay $371,915 and $635,100, respectively. McLennan County commissioners this week approved the purchase. The Waco City Council is scheduled to vote July 5.
Commissioners also approved issuing $15 million in general obligation bonds to convert the old jail next to the McLennan County Courthouse to courtrooms and jury quarters. Nearly $10 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act money the county received to deal with the repercussions of COVID-19 also will go toward the $39 million remodel.
Commissioner recently chose Dallas-based Brinkley Sargent Wiginton Architects to design changes to the former jail on Columbus Avenue. It will receive about $2.8 million to provide basic architectural services, while other entities will provide nearly $900,000 in supplementary services related to the project, including consulting with the Texas Historical Commission.
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County Administrator Dustin Chapman said issuing $15 million in certificates of obligation should not necessitate a tax increase, as the county continuously retires debt. As these certificates mature, “other debt drops off,” Chapman said.
Commissioners will begin budget discussions July 5, hoping to adopt a preliminary budget for the new fiscal year by July 26, he said.
Chronically pursuing space, McLennan County could not pass on the two properties in the neighborhood, Chapman said. The county likely will demolish the 11,676-square-foot building on Columbus Avenue, creating parking space and “material staging” space for the courthouse work, he said.
“There are a lot of preliminary things to be done before construction, including initial site preparation and designating construction areas,” County Judge Scott Felton recently told the Tribune-Herald.
The 8,468-square-foot building on Washington Avenue is “move-in ready,” and gives the county flexibility in choosing where to relocate units in the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office, for example, or specialty courts that handle cases involving military veterans, drug treatment and mental health.
The site on Columbus, however, may face contamination issues related to past uses as a Waco Transit maintenance facility, a paint and body shop, and possibly a dry cleaner. Also during Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners considered a $24,000 proposal from the Kleinfelder engineering firm for an assessment that would include soil boring to delineate areas of contamination identified by a city-sponsored report from 2007.
The property is in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfield database, which indicates cleanup is needed. The city’s 2007 report identified areas of lead and mercury in soil “at concentrations greater than the established backgrounds concentrations,” in addition to areas with volatile organic compounds in the soil, according to documents presented to commissioners.