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A plan to have someone rappel down Alvarado Square while painting a 38-foot-wide copy of the Bernalillo County seal – then installing new color-changing lights to showcase the work – remains up in the air.
The Bernalillo County Commission this week delayed a decision on the seal and millions of dollars in other changes to the county’s new Downtown Albuquerque headquarters after one commissioner questioned whether they are needed or prudent.
Along with the giant seal, the proposed work includes replacing windows, creating three new exam rooms for the on-site medical clinic for employees, finishing work spaces on the building’s seventh floor and adding more security cameras and features.
It would cost a total of $4.7 million and be in addition to the $68 million the county already spent readying the building it moved into last summer.
Money for the proposed work would come from multiple sources, but mostly from general obligation bonds and the general fund.
During a public meeting Tuesday, Commissioner Charlene Pyskoty voiced concern about the “constant (Alvarado Square) change orders asking for millions of dollars” and that the county keeps giving the jobs to the project’s original contractor, HB Construction, rather than putting them out to bid. She suggested the county finally wrap the Alvarado Square design-build contract, reflecting on a conversation she had with the county attorney when the project was starting a few years ago.
“I asked … ‘When does it end? When do we know we’re done?’ And I remember (he) said something like, ‘It ends when you say it ends,'” Pyskoty said Tuesday. “My feeling is maybe, for me, it ends tonight.”
But the commission took no final action on the $4.7 million proposal Tuesday, instead voting to defer a vote until a later meeting.
The discussion comes just five months after the county moved into Alvarado Square, consolidating about 800 government employees and a number of functions that were previously scattered across multiple sites.
Located at 415 Silver SW, Alvarado Square previously housed Public Service Company of New Mexico. The county bought the building in 2017 for $2.7 million with the expectation that remodeling and needed updates would run about $33 million.
The total project bill – including some unexpected COVID-19-related expenses – had doubled by the time the building opened to the public last August.
But county staff have described the move as a major success.
“The building is living up to the original project goals, employees are thriving and doing business with the County has never been easier,” staff wrote in documents outlining the proposed new work.
Pyskoty, however, challenged the necessity of several of the proposed new elements, including the seal and lighting on the side of the building. It would cost over $331,000 and involve bringing in a painter from Las Vegas, Nevada.
County management wants “to integrate our new flagship facility seamlessly into the colorful skyline of downtown Albuquerque,” according to the staff report, though Pyskoty said that a large logo should not be a county priority.
“People know that’s our building; we have signage,” she said. “I just don’t think that’s necessary at this time.”
She also cast doubt on the need to expand the on-site health clinic since it is currently averaging just 12 patients a week. County staff, meanwhile, noted in their memo that the clinic should see traffic increase in July when it begins also serving county employees’ dependents.
Pyskoty also questioned the proposal’s most expensive element – replacing windows on the second through eighth stories and the “existing storefront vestibules” on the first and second floors.
Jared Divett, the county’s fleet and facilities director, said the windows are approaching the end of their life. Installing new windows will reduce the county’s energy expenses, he said, and aid an active county grant request for ballistic window coating.
The county is seeking the grant after vandals in October shot at the building, shattering some of its windows and causing glass to rain down inside the atrium-style building. The film would “minimize that sort of incident in the future,” Divett told the commission.
Divett also addressed Pyskoty’s concerns about consistently using HB Construction for ongoing Alvarado Square updates, saying the county does not want other contractors doing anything that might compromise the warranty on HB’s initial work.
“We don’t want to void any of these warranties,” he said.