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County authorizes negotiations with architectural firm

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DIANA BUCKLEY
Ellis County Communications
ELLIS COUNTY - In the interest of continuing to expedite progress on the county's building project, Commissioners called a special meeting on Monday, July 30 to hear a report from County Engineer Joe White, following oral interviews with the four top-scoring architectural and engineering firms after review of written proposals.

'Each firm was allowed 40 minutes for a presentation and 20 minutes for question and answer,' said White.

'Each firm brought in six to 12 people, subcontractors and things like that.'

According to White, the committee was unanimous in scoring HDR as the preferred firm.

'HDR started in 1930 as Henningson Engineering Company and in 1950 it became Henningson, Durham and Richardson,' White told the Court.

'In 1997 it became HDR.'

The firm was employee owned, with 140 offices and 6,200 employees.

It has been ranked among the top 10 A&E firms for the last 10 years by Building Design and Construction Magazine, ranked 17 by Engineering News, and ranked third in criminal justice by World Architecture Magazine.

The firm has worked with 200 governmental entities in the State of Texas.

'I can tell you this - they were very at ease,' White added.

Following a motion by Commissioner Ron Brown, pct. 4, the Court voted to authorize county staff to begin negotiations with HDR.

'They will be teamed up with Freese and Nichols to provide site work and some design assistance,' said White.

'Given the beauty of the fact that Freese and Nichols had input into the budget proposal, it's going to be hard to say they can't meet the budget.'

Commissioners also heard recommendations from the County's financial advisor, Jim Sabonis of First Southwest Company, and County Auditor Mike Navarro with regard to Underwriter Services for issuance of the County's $53.875 million bond, approved by voters on May 12.

A request for proposals for underwriter services was released on June 27, 2007, with interviews of the 'short list' held on July 18. A bond purchase agreement is expected to be considered in the August 13 meeting of the Commissioners' Court.

'We had 11 responses to the RFP,' said Navarro. 'The responses were graded on firm description, capital available, transaction history, history in Texas, history with general obligation bonds, and history with Texas counties, as well as proposed market strategy for the bonds, the quality of their personnel, the references they were able to put forth, their presence in the community, and past Ellis County experience.'

Navarro noted that Bank of America has one bank in Ellis County, with 12 employees, while
Senior Vice President R.R. 'Tripp' Davenport has assisted the Commissioners' Court in the past.
Southwest Securities formerly served as the County's financial advisor.

'Both of those firms are the firms that received points based on community experience,' Navarro said.

According to Sabonis, proposals were compared to like proposals - Wall Street or national firms compared to other national firms, regional firms compared to regional firms, minority firms compared to minority firms.

Adams made a motion to approve Banc of America Securities LLC as the head underwriter for the issuance of the bonds, with A.G. Edwards & Sons, RBC Capital Markets, and Southwest Securities each accepting a percentage of the risk (70-10-10-10).

'I think the Judge made a good decision,' Sabonis said. 'The Wall Street firm was the dominant participant, with the highest points.'

A plan is in place to create an opportunity for local investors to purchase the bonds, as well.

'They will actually set them aside, and they will be sold at the same price they would be to institutional investors, just local investors will have priority,' said Sabonis. 'Every effort will be made, but at no cost to the taxpayers.'

In other business, Commissioners approved a contract for filming of a commercial for the Dallas Morning News at the Ellis County Courthouse on August 1, as well as a contract for professional services with Local Government Solutions to provide imaging and indexing services for records in the care and custody of the County Clerk.

No action was taken on a request to approve a preliminary plat for Aday Estates in pct. 3.

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