If you’re a current subscriber, log in below. If you would like to subscribe, please click the subscribe tab above.
Username and Password Help
“IT’S IN THE ATTORNEY’S HANDS NOW”
The historic preservation and repurposing of a former bank in downtown Cotulla may have come to a halt this month after city councilors agreed to terminate a contract with the architectural firm responsible for the million-dollar project.
An official termination letter had not been sent to contractor Briscoe Architects as of press time Tuesday.
Once the home of Stockmens Bank and later used as a car parts storage facility, the two-story structure on Front Street in downtown Cotulla’s historic district was bought by the city from John Keck of Laredo for $75,000 in 2018 and underwent extensive work over the past five years for conversion into offices of the Main Street Program and exhibition space. Funding for the building rescue and restoration was made possible by the municipal hotel occupancy tax, which generates more than a million dollars per year for Cotulla to spend on projects that enhance tourism and revitalize the downtown economy.
The restoration project was budgeted and planned in two phases, the first being as much as $500,000 for structural stabilization, roof replacement, drainage corrections, and the installation of steel joists to strengthen exterior walls. The second phase, pegged at more than $400,000, involved complete interior renovation, plumbing, furnishing, fixtures and fittings.
The Briscoe company was contracted for both phases.
The city had planned to host a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the renovated building late last year. Councilors had voted on paint colors, carpeting and fixtures that would be installed, but repeated construction delays pushed the reopening date into this spring.
A unanimous decision by councilors present on Thursday night, March 9, put an end to repeated calls for a contract extension and a new completion date by Briscoe Architects.
Councilors announced their decision after a 45-minute consultation behind closed doors.
Complaints by City Hall ranged from slow construction to an apparent failure to meet deadlines, to install fixtures and fittings that had been ordered, and to complete work on the historic recreation of an original tinplate ceiling on the ground floor.
“We have extended the time several times,” City Administrator Larry Dovalina said after the council decision to end Cotulla’s relationship with Briscoe Architects. “He hasn’t done the work. I estimate that it’s ninety-two percent complete, but there are odds and ends that he is incapable of bringing in the specialists to complete.”
The city administrator acknowledged that the task of preserving the architectural integrity of the building, stabilizing the structure, and modernizing its interior to meet 21st-century demands was fraught with challenges from the start.
“In my opinion, he underestimated the work,” Dovalina said of company owner Frank Briscoe. “Supply costs went up. For example, air conditioning and heating system components went up in price by thirty or forty percent during and after the coronavirus pandemic. He did not factor that into his task.
“He’s out of time,” the city administrator said. “We extended him twice. We tried to work with him so he could finalize the project, but it wasn’t enough.”
City Hall has not named a replacement builder for the remainder of the Stockmens project and has indicated that subcontractors and city crews may do the job independently.
“We had wanted to open the building this spring, but we are now going to depend on the bonding company. They may pressure the subcontractors to finish the job,” Dovalina said. “It’s in the attorney’s hands now.”
Councilors declined to comment on the issue before casting their votes. The motion to end a contract with Briscoe was made by Councilor Eloy Zertuche and seconded by Councilor Gilbert Ayala.
“All the materials are basically in the building,” the city administrator said this week. “Somebody just needs to do the work. We have the skilled manpower to do it.
“I think that once it’s done, the people will be satisfied,” Dovalina added, “because it’s another piece of historic Cotulla that is being preserved.”