Bexar County Commissioners approved a plan Tuesday that will speed up construction on San Pedro Creek’s transformation from a ditch to a linear park by allowing the San Antonio River Authority to advertise for construction contractors earlier than originally planned. The process has been delayed about nine months, according to officials, due to design concerns expressed by area stakeholders.
Phase 1 and 2 redesigns, approved by the County last week, cut project costs by nearly $30 million and reworked key architectural and landscaping elements, but will require additional funds to complete the project in time.
The goal is to have the urban section of the creek completed by the city’s Tricentennial celebrations in May 2018, but SARA and County officials have yet to identify additional funding sources. Bexar County has committed $125 million towards the estimated $206.8 million project which was originally priced at $175 million.
Officials were expected to define possible sources of funding on Tuesday, but that won’t happen until the total project costs can be defined, said SARA General Manager Suzanne Scott. Those costs are expected to be announced in spring 2016, a tight deadline if officials want to apply for funding from the City’s 2017 bond program.
Recent design revisions were well received by downtown property and business owners and other stakeholders, but design and construction schedules are now behind by nine months, according to Kerry Averyt, SARA’s project manager.
Final designs expected to be completed by February will not be ready until November.
“We’re working with the project team to mitigate the impact of the delay on the project,” Averyt said. “One of the methods we’re looking at to help gain back some of our schedule is look at a different construction delivery method.”
SARA suggested that the County forego the usual “design-bid-build” process, which requires a complete design before construction, and instead hire a construction firm to work with the design team now instead of waiting for the end of the design process. The latter is called the Construction Manager at Risk (CMAR) method.
Construction and utility work will start six months earlier under this method compared to traditional design-bid-build process, Scott said, and the project will have a guaranteed maximum pricing outline before construction begins.
SARA recommended using a two-step selection process, which would include a request for qualifications (RFQ) and a request for proposal (RFP), to be released in January.
Construction could begin as early as summer 2016, with most of the work finished by May 2018.
“We feel that in a project of this magnitude, we really should not try to rush the process and we want to make sure we make the right choice here,” Averyt said. A CMAR selection committee comprised of three County officials and two SARA officials, will select the CMAR by April 2016 before beginning work with the design team.
The committee would seek an experienced contractor with a proven record for timely project completion on budget. Other criteria would include commitment to quality and safety and organizational depth and management plan.
“If it’s never been done locally you can’t measure it, ” said Commissioner Paul Elizondo.
Outside contractors might choose outside vendors over local vendors, he cautioned.
“At the end of the project we want to be a local, San Antonio project,” he said. “We want it to have that Westside San Antonio look, and we want the people who are doing business with us to have that same look.”
Commissioners approved the CMAR recommendation, and agreed to meet again in the new year to review the scope of work agreement. Officials also approved SARA’s recommendations that added Susan Oliver Heard, owner of Cinnabar Gallery and Deborah A. Cortez, the director of cultural preservation and brand development for Mi Tierra, to serve on the project’s art advisory committee. The committee’s recommendations will be submitted by May 2016 for Council approval.
“I think (integrating art in the project) is a real important step. This is different than anything done on the River Walk or Mission Reach,” said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff.
*Top image: SARA General Manager Suzanne Scott (left) and Kerry Averyt (right), the project manager at SARA for the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project, present updates to Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and the Commissioners Court. Photo by Lea Thompson.