The Brazos River Authority’s state headquarters on Cobbs Drive again is battling moisture, and the latest corrective action has employees working from home and could soak the operation with a $3 million bill.

The $5.5 million, 40,000-square-foot building, with its distinctive stone exterior, opened with much fanfare in September 2002. Texas Gov. Rick Perry attended ceremonies for the authority’s new nerve center for controlling water use, dam construction and flows in the Brazos River Basin.

Having spent $7.2 million to remedy a black mold infestation in 2012, the Brazos River Authority now appears poised to almost double its initial investment.

Work crews have been active at the site for at least two months, replacing its heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system, spokeswoman Judi Pierce said. She said the project will wrap up in a week or two, allowing dozens of staffers who have been working remotely to return to their offices.

She estimated 82 staffers have been barred from their offices during the work, though not lab employees.

“We were having constant condensation water leaks on the drop ceiling and outages in areas of the building as a result,” Pierce wrote in an email response to questions.

This round of work is not related to the mold outbreak six years ago, rather “an entirely different issue related to the design of the HVAC system,” she wrote.

Minutes of a Brazos River Authority board meeting dated July 30, 2018, show the board authorized the authority’s general manager to “review bids and execute a contract for the construction of the Central Office Renovations Project in an amount not to exceed $3.05 million.”

If the project were to fall below that price, the remaining money would be used “to address unforeseen issues that may arise during the project,” according to the minutes.

Issues to be addressed include existing HVAC equipment, carpet, “and any other building materials, communications supplies, and electrical supplies removed to facilitate construction, and authorized disposition of surplus personal property to the project contractor.”

Pierce declined to discuss details of the project beyond her email messages. Neither the city of Waco nor the local office of the Associated General Contractors of America had records of a building permit being issued specifically for 4600 Cobbs Drive, the authority’s address.

The Brazos River Authority board held its most recent meeting Jan. 28 at Texas State Technical College, not in its boardroom.

The agenda packet includes photographs featuring a crane, surrounded by workers wearing hard hats, hoisting HVAC equipment into the air. An interior shot shows a technician riding to the ceiling aboard a hydraulic lift, and another revealed furniture and hallways swathed in plastic.

A caption predicts the project would draw to a close this month.

2012 problems

The scenario is similar to that in 2012, when the authority’s 89 employees were relocated and then brought back to the home base after remediation work brought airborne mold down to safe levels.

During the repair work, some interior doors, windows, drywall and ceiling tiles were replaced, and fabrics were deep cleaned. Temporary ventilation was installed to dehumidify and filter the air, the Tribune-Herald reported at the time.

The board earlier in 2012 approved $3 million to remediate the mold, which included some toxic black mold. During the process, contractors discovered mold-related damage to exterior walls. Repairs included removing exterior Austin stone masonry, gypsum board, insulation and windows. Contractors also constructed a moisture barrier before rebuilding the stone walls.

The board approved repairs of more than $7 million, allocating funds generated by water sales to cities, farmers and industrial users. Questions were raised about leveling the building and starting from scratch, but staffers said demolition and reconstruction would cost $11.5 million.

Several factors contributed to the fiasco, including poorly drained air conditioning condensation, leaking windows and stormwater that puddled around the building. Porous Austin stone allowed moisture to enter and be trapped, and termites were attracted to the saturated areas, according to reports from the authority’s technical services officials.

The building was designed by RBDR Architects of Waco and built by J.L. Construction of Gatesville. Brazos River Authority officials said state law provides a 10-year statute of limitations on legal action related to design and construction.

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