Council approves statue plan for Veterans Park
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
Veterans Park is ready and waiting for its centerpiece, but after the City Council discovered in late January that a bronze statue ordered from out of state would be cost-prohibitive, the search was on for a better option.
Monday, the Council approved that option, tasking City Administrator Greg Boartight to commission a statue with local area sculptor Bob Ragan who lives and works in Florence.
“I’d love to see a local artist create that and dedicate that into our park,” Boatright said. “It goes along with the theme of our city with what Mel (Fowler) created and the artist community we have here.”
The real issue Monday night was how to fund the project.
“In the park itself we have bricks that you will be able to buy with inscriptions, and those bricks will generate $45,000 to $50,000,” Boatright said. “For the type of sculpture that has been discussed, we got a proposal back for $45,000. We have several ways we can fund the sculpture.”
The options for how to fund the sculpture included using tax notes as had been done with the rest of the Veterans Park project, using the funds raised selling the bricks to reimburse the General Fund, or it could be paid for out of the General Fund with the proposed downtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone eventually covering the costs.
The statue will be made from local stone and will be a kneeling soldier. The plan is for the community to be able to watch online as Ragan works on the project in his studio.
“The Veterans Park that has been created here will be here for many, many years to come,” Boatright said. “Creating that in our downtown and making it special for the people who have served in our military is important.”
The council vote to pay for the project out of the General Fund and reimburse the monies through the sale of the memorial bricks was unanimous, with council member Ron Rhea absent.
Construction plans and bid documents were provided to the Council for a trio of renovation projects.
The Council approved the plans to go out for bid together in hopes of realizing some construction savings by awarding them together.
“What we recommend as we issue this as one construction bid package for all three buildings,” said architect Don Eckols. “What we’re looking for here is an economy of means. We’re hoping we can get a better deal.”
The hope is to avoid some of the site set-up costs and make use of the need for similar trades and similar materials in each project.
Eckols outlined the details of the three projects, including renovation of the Fowler building and Forrest Street building downtown as well as the Municipal Court building on Ranch Road 1869.
The Fowler building comes with the highest anticipated price tag because of its historic background.
“We will be returning that building to its original state, in terms of where it was when Mel Fowler had his studio at that location,” Eckols said. “We have had meetings and worked up design and construction documents, and these are what you will bid and build the project with.”
The building was constructed in 1871 by S.P. Stubblefield, then purchased and restored by Mel Fowler in 1973. Through Fowler’s efforts, it was recorded as a Texas Historic Landmark in 1976.
Because it is a historic building, the price tag for restoring it is high, coming in at an initial estimate of $601,388 in February.
The City purchased the building in January 2017 for $225,000.
Eckols said the building has an extensive history, and in studying it, he found it was very sound structurally, in good condition and offered many options for the community.
The planned renovation would upgrade the building, making it ADA compliant, adding an elevator, new stairs and lighting, along with plumbing, electrical, heating and air conditioning work, but would preserve the rest.
“It is a modern building in that regard, but the essence of the building is just like it was when Mr. Fowler had it,” Eckols said. “We’ve already had meetings with the Texas Historical Commission, and they were very pleased with where we were going with the building.”
There are many options for what the building could be used for with a kitchen, restrooms and ample space, but Boatright said he hoped it would be focused on the arts and its heritage.
“We want to promote the arts in our community with that building,” Boatright said in February. “That would encompass exhibitions of various artists. The kitchen and restroom access opens it up for a lot of different activities, but mainly we would want to incorporate Mel (Fowler’s) creations and the history that is behind the 1976 Sculpture Symposium in the building and make sure that is prominent.”
The second project is a house on Forrest Street, adjacent to the police station. It is a 1,300-square-foot house with what Eckols said is a structurally sound roof and exterior, but only studs inside with no utilities or walls.
When planning the renovation, Eckols said nothing was done to expand the building, but it would be planned with three offices, a bathroom, kitchen and conference room.
The estimated price tag in Febraury was $219,000, a number that made city staff and council members pause, which eventually led to the plan of bidding the projects together.
The highest line items on the estimate included plumbing, air and heat, and electrical work. The cost per square foot was estimated at $171.77.
Eckols said he knew the estimate was high, but reminded the Council that transforming the structure from a private residence to a commercial structure increased the costs and scope of work. He did add that he believed the cost would come in lower once bids were received.
The third project being included is the exterior renovation of the Municipal Court building.
“What we have proposed on this building is to apply a stone wainscoting to the bottom with stucco above, and we have an entry to the front that now has a presence when you come to the building,” Eckols said. “Now the outside can be brought up to the level of design of the interior.”
The doorway will be extended out to the edge of the sidewalk, creating a vestibule and more pronounced entrance. The back of the building will remain metal siding, but the front and sides will have the stone and stucco finish.
A notice for bid was also unanimously approved upon presentation from Bowman Consulting for the proposed parking lot for the police department and Forrest Street renovation.
The plan includes seven spots reserved for city and police vehicles just off a one-ay entrance on Forrest Street. The main two-way access point will be on Loop 332 and will provide access to three public spots and one handicap space.
Details for Wetzel Park were shared with the Council, showing the splash pad, parking, bicycle racks and water station, and restrooms.
The Council chose not to take action, opting instead to wait for more details on the building materials planned for the restroom building on the site.
The splash pad includes various symmetrical sets of fountains on four lobes and sits on a site approximately 50-feet square. The fountains are controlled by push buttons for child activation.
“They can all be justified by height and intensity to customize the play experience,” said Tracy Bratton of Bowman Consulting.
The parking area is positioned on the north end of the site with two-way entrance on Loop 332 and entrance-only access on County Road 279.
Council member Liz Branigan inquired about the materials being used on the facade of the restroom building, but Bratton said he would need to follow up with more detailed information. Bratton will meet with city staff to ensure the facade materials match what the Council and staff had in mind for the project.
The engineering portion of the annual street and utility improvements was approved at $57,473 with Steger Bizzell.
“The utility improvements are water line upgrades,” said Ben Lake with the engineering firm. “The bulk of this work is part of the city’s long-range plan to replace the old water line.”
Two streets are included in the project for rehabilitation.
“Street improvements include Myrtle Lane from the Loop to 1869 and Munro Street from the Loop back to Stubblefield,” Lake said. “The street improvements include adding ribbon curb to both sides of the street to improve the edge of the street and longevity, as well as either a hot mix or chipseal upgrade to the surface.”
The scope of work includes surveying, engineering, bid and construction management and construction inspection. The work is expected to take about six months before bids are awarded for construction. The anticipated construction timeline, once approved by Council, is four months.
The Council voted unanimously to approve the engineering work.
With potentially exponential growth in water service customers on the horizon, the Council unanimously approved a professional services agreement with DataProse LLC for future handling of the city’s utility billing and mailing services.
“As we know, Liberty Hill is growing quite rapidly, and we are creating more utility accounts and putting in more meters, and we’re also looking at taking on some areas that have a substantial number of accounts,” said Finance Director Michel Sorrell. “In order to continue providing our good customer service it makes sense to use technology to outsource the utility billing itself.”
The anticipated cost is $530 per month, and the approved amount for the agreement is not to exceed $10,000. The move to DataProse services would not occur unless an agreement is made to take on a new service area from the City of Georgetown.
“We would not enact this, unless we’re successful in negotiation with Georgetown for the service area,” Boatright said. “This is at the request of Georgetown, so I would say at the earliest maybe a year from now. (Michel Sorrell) is trying to address a need ahead of time to where if and when we are successful in that negotiation that we would have something in place. This is just in preparation for expansion of our system.”
If successful, it is estimated the agreement would add 3,200 new customers for the city, which currently has 888 accounts. The potential annexation of Stonewall into the city limits could also add about 450 more new accounts.
Currently, the city has one part-time person handling utility billing, with two others filling in.
“The other two only address the need for window service and really don’t do anything with billing other than if there is a problem,” Boatright said.
There is a three-month implementation timeline, so Boatright said establishing this agreement would position the city to be ready for the new customers ahead of time.
In other business Monday, newly-appointed member Liz Branigan took the Oath of Office. She was appointed two weeks ago to fill the seat vacated by her son, Jon Branigan, who moved outside the city limits and is now a candidate for Liberty Hill ISD Board of Trustees.