A request by Killeen City Manager Kent Cagle to hire a firm to complete the conceptual design of a new city hall and municipal court complex turned into a debate Tuesday among Killeen City Council members on the merits of calling a bond election in November.
“If we’re going to take a credible number that has some good working science behind it, we need some help,” Cagle said. “What the architects would do is interview all the department heads, all the staff that are proposed to go into the new city hall and come up” with recommendations on what the property should include and where it should be built.
The $108,295 agreement with Brinkley Sargent Wiginton Architects of Austin would return the results of a needs assessment to council members as well as the conceptual layout of a new city hall.
“The bond deliverable would have the project budget and final exterior design,” Cagle said. “They’ll make a presentation to council, but we should have this done by July (or) August.”
Hiring architects to design buildings is a prerequisite in the bond-preparation process — a usually months-long undertaking that includes land acquisition when it is necessary, financial forecasts, and tax implications and working with bond attorneys.
“Some people want a new city hall,” Councilman Riakos Adams said. “Some people don’t. Some of the comments I’ve gotten are ... ‘Are we doing this too soon before we even decide whether we’re going to do the bond?’ And the other side is ... ‘Is this necessary or required to do the bond? Are we wasting money (if) the citizens decide not to vote for the bond?”
Cagle explained that process.
'Not final construction plans’
“If they vote it down and the project’s never done, I would say, ‘Yeah. The money’s wasted,’” Cagle said. “But you’ve got to do some due diligence up front so the voters have some idea of what they’re talking about. Once again, these are not final construction plans — not even close. That’s a completely different order of magnitude. This is preliminary space planning, needs assessment and just some concepts for what the facility will look like. Otherwise, what you’re taking to the voters in November is just an idea.”
The “due diligence” to which Cagle is referring is similar to that of school districts when officials hire engineers to conduct facilities studies to determine existing and eventual needs of students and employees. Those studies often include site plans, rights-of-way acquisition, student-population growth forecasts, student-transportation needs and the current state of aging infrastructure.
“We’ll also have real budget estimates,” Cagle said. “And so the council will have input on that. If what we’re trying to put in the building turns out to be twice as expensive as what we think it is, well then maybe you step back and make some changes and maybe the facility is not as big and some departments stay where they are. There’ll be a number of things to discuss and some give- and-take, depending on what their final cost estimate is.”
In January, Cagle offered the same presentation he did in November 2022 that provided a cost analysis and options for issuing debt based on those estimates in the lead-up to the possible bond election.
The price tag
It could take as much as $232 million in bond debt, including $66 million for a new city hall and municipal court complex, over the next nine years to improve public buildings and quality-of-life issues, Cagle told the City Council on Nov. 15. He also said that because Killeen is “a growing city,” the need for public facilities and the infrastructure that supports them often exceeds the revenue available to fund them.
“My concern is when people say that you’re not listening to us,” Councilwoman Nina Cobb said on Tuesday. “Even with this bond issue and looking at City Hall, I don’t think that we need a new one. What are we looking at? Do we really need a new city hall right now?”
City Hall, 101 N. College St., is on the National Register of Historic Places. Renovated for that purpose in 1993, it was the original Killeen High School built in 1923.
“We proposed a (certificates of obligation) issue to deal with a number of maintenance issues here at City Hall,” Cagle said in January. “The question became, ‘Should we continue to spend money on this building that’s almost 100 years old or build downtown.’”
‘Having a hard time’
“I’m having a hard time with the bond issue, and it’s from constituents,” Cobb said. “I just hope that as we consider the bonds and the money that we’re going to spend that we put our best foot forward to improving those things that really need improving. We have such an excellent staff and would love to put them in a state-of-the art city hall. But if we can improve more on the outside then we can on the inside, let’s try and do that.”
Councilwoman Jessica Gonzalez took no position on the argument but reminded Cobb that a new city hall would be more than another building.
“I do agree with some of what Councilwoman Cobb said but part of this is also going to centralize our important services for constituents who are ... spread out all across the city to get from one department to another.”
In 2021, the city’s population was 156,261 — a nearly 16% increase over the previous decade. Killeen officials have estimated the population could reach 180,000 by 2030.
‘It’s up to you’
“Somebody asked me do we want a city hall or do we need a city hall,” Councilman Jose Segarra said. “My response is: ‘It’s up to you. It’s not up to me. You’re the ones who are going to vote for it. We’re just giving you the plan, and it has to be a plan because it would look silly if we didn’t have a plan to present to you.”
Council members must eventually vote to place the bond proposition or propositions on the November ballot.
“The question is, ‘Do we need a new city hall now?” Mayor Debbie Nash-King said. “We have always needed a new city hall. We need an upgrade. Is the time right? I can see it from both perspectives. Let us not forget that we are here for the people, and I do believe that they should have a say in anything we do before we even put it on the ballot — if that is the direction this council would like to go in.”
That’s where the third discussion about a new city hall since November ended and another about how staff members define consultants began between Cagle and Cobb.
“We get so many consultants and pay so many people but we have an excellent staff,” Cobb said. “Our staff, can they not give us consults on buildings they’re used to going into? We spend a lot on consultants coming in (and) telling us about our city. I know they’re the experts, but I think we’ve got some great experts working in our buildings around here, too. I’m just curious as to knowing why ne need some many consultants.”
“We don’t have architects on staff to design buildings,” he said. “Let’s back up and stop for a minute on the word ‘consultants’ because that gives the idea that they’re just giving us a plan. Almost all the money we spend is with engineers — the vast majority of it what gets labeled ‘consultants’ — and we get detailed construction plans. The alternative is, we can create our own engineering firm with lots of engineers and lots of staff but it’s incredibly inefficient because we don’t build that many roads. Do we need to have a city architectural firm to design facilities that we almost never build? It wouldn’t make sense.”
But residents don’t know that, Cobb said.
“Sometimes, our constituents and our city doesn’t understand (when) they read in the newspaper (that) we just voted $150,000 for this consulting firm,” she said. “Sometimes, we have to be just a little more transparent in why we are hiring people because their next question to me will be, ‘Why are you getting a consulting firm? What are those people doing up at City Hall? Do they not know the answers?”
That’s when the conversation turned to the Herald and its reporting on the city’s consultants.
“I would hope you have the confidence to tell them that, yes, we don’t have employees sitting around waiting for something to do,” Cagle said to Cobb. “They’re all very busy. Generally, when we hire an architect or engineer, it’s because we don’t have that expertise or it doesn’t make sense to do that. And we can’t control what’s reported in the paper. The word ‘consultant’ is fine to be put in a headline and used when we’ve actually hired an engineering firm to design a road.”
The Herald reported in October that over the last five years, Killeen has spent more than $11.3 million on consulting fees, according to data obtained through a Texas Public Information Act request.
The costs ranged from $720 for an asbestos survey at the Bob Gilmore Senior Center to almost $1.9 million for the “south water supply project.”
Since 2017, Killeen officials had contracted 41 consultants — some of them multiple times, including Kimley-Horn and Associates, NewGen Strategies & Solutions, Public Sector Personnel Consultants, Randall Scott Architects, Scheibe Consulting, The Solco Group, CP&Y Inc. and Subsidiaries, CPS HR Consulting, Freese and Nichols, Garver and Verdunity.
During a regular meeting on Feb. 28, council members are scheduled to vote on whether to contract Brinkley Sargent Wiginton Architects for the needs assessment and conceptual design of a new city hall and municipal court complex.
Again. Our leaders like to spend taxpayers money on luxury of a building. Keep the old building and sped the money elsewhere that is needed.
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.