News Column

El Paso City Hall Begins Its Move

Jan 25, 2013

Evan Mohl

The city of El Paso's relocation from City Hall, along with the building's demolition, has gone from planned and vague to reality.

After weeks of speculation and an uncertain timeline, the city Thursday began releasing actual dates to move most of its departments to either temporary or permanent locations. Parks and Recreation relocated to the Pat O'Rourke Center, 901 N. Virginia, while Economic Development went to the Chase Building in Downtown.

Both departments will begin business in their new locations Monday.

City Hall -- and its 600 employees -- will be vacated by March 31, said the city's relocation manager, John Neal. An official demolition date for City Hall has not been set since a contractor has not been selected, but it should be soon after everyone is moved out, Neal said. C.F. Jordan Construction/Hunt Construction, the joint-venture group that the city hired for about $40 million as the construction manager at-risk, will handle the demolition contract, which is estimated to cost $2.5 million. Hunt Construction is not affiliated with local businessman Woody Hunt.

"It's been a process, a quick one," Neal said. "We didn't want to get everyone geared up for one date and then change it until we were certain of everything."

The city approved about $3.9 million for moving everything; that money came from unassigned general fund balance, or amounts of money already available. More than half, about $1.8 million, was used to move the information technology department and a lot of sensitive, heavy equipment such as Sun Metro's automatic vehicle locator system, fiber optics and the public safety network.

The IT department completed its relocation to the airport.

"I actually think that was the most difficult part because you're dealing with expensive equipment that you can't just pick up and have it work again," Neal said. "It definitely kept me up at night."

About $450,000 of the moving budget was used to scan documents to minimize use of space and become more digital. The remaining $1.65 million will be used on everything else, and the city is currently under budget, Neal said.

Some of the cost savings came from green initiatives like reuse, including obtaining used furniture from the El Paso Times building. Neal has worked on relocation projects before in the private sector, moving Time Warner Cable offices in South and West Texas several times into different buildings.

But the City Hall project is most likely one of his biggest.

The moving will continue next week; the deadline is March 31. Engineering and Construction Management will relocate by the end of January to the Tillman Center, 222 S. Campbell, and City Development to follow a week later to the same place. Both the Tillman Center and the O'Rourke Center are temporary locations until the Luther Building, 218 N. Campbell, and the 801 Texas building are ready.

The City Council, despite some confusion on the contract and construction manager at-risk, Tuesday approved $18.5 million for renovation of those two buildings, which is expected to be completed by this fall.

The next big round of shuffling city departments will come March 7, according to the city's website, when the mayor, City Council, city manager and city attorneys will move permanently to the El Paso Times building, 300 N. Campbell. The El Paso Times staff is expected to be in its new building by then, said the paper's publisher, Sergio Salinas.

Several other departments, including Human Resources and Municipal Clerk, will arrive at the Times Building later in March. The only real question is the future of the Insights El Paso Science Center, which does not have definite plans other than storage facilities.

Preparation of the 10-story City Hall for demolition will begin sometime in March, Neal said.

"All moves are a little hectic, but the new place is good," said El Paso Parks and Recreation Department Public Relations Director Wayne Thornton. "But you can't be anywhere for a while without gaining some attachment to it. City Hall has not only been like a personal landmark and landscape for Downtown, but a place where you can work with the greatest civil servants who strive to make El Paso better."

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Distributed by MCT Information Services



Source: (c) 2013 the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas)


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