Updating, improving the great outdoors through the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
The 84th Texas Legislative Session brought great funding opportunities for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). The passing of House Bill 158 meant that 94 percent of state sales tax revenue, $261.1 million, attributed to sporting goods was shared with TPWD for state park facilities and operations. The remaining six percent goes to the Texas Historical Commission for state historic sites. The funds also helped cities and counties build and improve community parks. This is the first time the full amount available has been appropriated since the 2002-03 biennium, when the maximum allocation was $64 million each biennium. A related bill, Senate Bill 1366, replaced the formula set up by HB 12 in 2008, which mandated a fixed percentage allocation of the sporting goods tax to various accounts. This important change made by SB 1366 essentially gave flexibility to spend dollars where they are most needed for parks.
In the 2016-2017 biennium, money has been used for state park capital repairs and improvements, addressing deteriorating facilities through water and wastewater projects, visitor center upgrades, restroom replacements, electric utility modernization and more. This was a much needed relief for a parks system that consists of 95 state historic sites, natural areas and parks- of which 91 are open to the public.
The goal of TPWD is to provide and manage a host of recreational opportunities to the public while protecting the natural habitats of wildlife and nature that live and thrive in their native, outdoor environments. The department also shares and protects historical landmarks scattered throughout Texas. But maintaining the land and bodies of water in the second largest U.S. state doesn’t come cheap. The 84th session put in place a funding stream that’s been vitally needed for effective long-term budgeting and planning to serve a rapidly growing Texas population.
In 2015 TPWD reported its parks-related infrastructure totaled more than 11,000 assets and approximately 2,300 buildings. Many state park facilities are historic, including dozens originally built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the new funding helped to address many needs at historic buildings and sites. Legislators specifically allocated about $2.7 million for the design and engineering phase of a new park, Palo Pinto Mountains State Park, near the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Lawmakers also provided $500,000 for new cabins and other improvements at Fort Boggy State Park, located off I-45 between Dallas and Houston. And, $3.5 million was slated for a new visitor center at Franklin Mountains State Park near El Paso.
One of the larger repairs marked for the biennium was Galveston Island, a more than $15 million plan will redevelop the beach side of the park destroyed by Hurricane Ike in 2008. Another larger repair is the Battleship TEXAS, that will benefit from $25 million in legislative allocations to repair and replace structural components of the ship, following an earlier phase of similar work completed in January 2015. Both of the projects are still ongoing.
Project timelines for bidding, design, construction and final completion has varied and based on complexity, and many will take years. However, some smaller, simpler projects were completed in 2016 and there are more projects in store for 2017.
“For the next eight months, we will be bidding dozens of projects in locations across the state, from the far reaches of the northern Panhandle to the Rio Grande Valley, and from El Paso to deep East Texas,” said Jessica Davisson, TPWD Infrastructure Division director.
“Thanks to the Texas Legislature dedicating dollars for parks in the last session, we have a lot of opportunity this year,” Davisson explained. “We know there are other state and municipal agencies also getting ready to bid projects, so we’re making an extra effort to get the word out and let people know there are some distinct advantages to working with us.”
Department projects are generally of the size and scope appropriate for small and mid-sized general contracting companies, with an average project value of more than $785,000. Work to be bid in coming weeks includes capital projects for the State Parks Division, Coastal Fisheries Division, Inland Fisheries Division, Wildlife Division, as well as projects at the agency’s Austin Headquarters.
Most of the projects TPWD will bid this spring involve construction at Texas State Parks and state natural areas. Some examples with estimated costs include:
* More than $10 million worth of work to improve water, wastewater, electrical, and HVAC systems at state parks such as Hill Country State Natural Area, Falcon Lake and Lake Somerville.
* More than $11 million for restroom repairs and restroom replacements at parks such as Mustang Island State Park, Inks Lake State Park and Caddo Lake State Park. (Restroom improvements remain one of the top requests from state park visitors.)
* More than $11 million for repairs for historic structures at parks such as Bastrop State Park, Indian Lodge at Davis Mountains State Park and Fort Leaton State Historic Site.
* More than $2.5 million to replace staff residences at parks such as Tyler State Park, San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site and Lake Tawakoni State Park. (On-site residences are important for quick emergency response and customer safety.)
* More than $1.4 million to repair boat ramps at parks such as Inks Lake State Park, Choke Canyon State Park and Ft. Parker State Park.
* More than $3.5 million for a Design-Build contract to design and construct a visitor’s center at Franklin Mountains State Park in El Paso.
But it’s not all state parks. Projects for the TPWD Wildlife Division total more than $5.5 million for fence replacement, conservation education facility building replacements, bunkhouse repairs and replacements and repairs to other facilities at state wildlife management areas.
Projects for the Inland and Coastal Fisheries Divisions total more than $8.5 million for water quality projects, new boat storage and other support structures.
For any contract with an expected value of $100,000 or more, before any state agency can seek bids for the contract, they must determine whether there will be subcontracting opportunities. If the state agency determines that is likely, each bid for the contract must include a historically underutilized business (HUB) subcontracting plan.
Unfortunately, some contractors are getting disqualified right at the start because they’re not properly filling out forms to submit these plans. To help contractors, the TPWD HUB program is offering a workshop from 1:30-3:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 23, at TPWD headquarters in Austin. This workshop will cover the step by step process of completing and submitting the required HUB subcontracting plan with an opportunity to meet the HUB staff that review and approve the plans. Similar workshops in other locations may follow, and assistance is also available by phone and email. For questions about the HUB process, contractors may email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (512) 389-4784.
The best way for contractors to keep informed about upcoming TPWD bidding opportunities is to sign up to get on the bid opportunities email list on the department website. Or, for project plans and specs, bidders can email email@example.com or call (512) 389-4442, and they should receive a response within five working days.
View TPWD’s special web portal that provides updates on facility repairs and other improvements.
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