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McALLEN — Plans to expand city hall here have evolved significantly compared to this time last year, when city leaders were considering a five-story expansion to be constructed along West Galveston Avenue just a few feet behind the current building.

That plan not only called for the standalone five-story structure, which would have included a parking garage on the first floor, but also a massive overhaul of the existing city hall, which was built in 1995.

Now, city leaders have shifted gears and are instead moving forward with plans to build the new city hall building in the overflow public parking lot across the street.

Officials expect the change will allow for a shorter construction timeline and fewer disruptions to residents and staff conducting the city’s daily business.

“The city commission decided that they wanted to go with the option of building a new, bigger building across the street. The plan is to build a new city hall and move everyone that’s at city hall to it,” McAllen City Manager Roel “Roy” Rodriguez said on Tuesday.

But as the expansion plans have shifted, so, too, has the estimated price tag, which has climbed by nearly $12 million.

The previous plan would have cost McAllen about $30 million — $10 million for the overhaul of the existing building, and about $20 million to build a narrow five-story structure sandwiched between the current building’s north side, and the curb along West Galveston Avenue.

That equals a cost of about $400 per square foot.

The new plan calls for a multistory building with an as-yet undetermined number of floors — one that would offer about 104,000 square feet of space, according to a presentation delivered by Milnet Architectural Services last month.

Shown are various architectural renderings of what the McAllen City Hall expansion could look like. The rendering was created by Milnet Architectural Services as part of a feasibility study. (Courtesy: City of McAllen)

Using that $400-per-square-foot metric, the new plan would clock in somewhere around $42 million, according to what Rudy Molina, president of Milnet Architectural Services, explained during a May 7 McAllen City Commission meeting held at Quinta Mazatlan.

“Your costs for doing it all new across the street is $42 million if you’re doing $400 a square foot, apples to apples,” Molina said.

Building across the street would more than double what the Galveston Avenue expansion would have added to the city hall complex — from 52,000 square feet in new construction to 104,000 square feet.

Moreover, construction would go faster since crews wouldn’t have to worry about remodeling one floor at a time while city staffers continued to occupy other floors at the existing city hall.

Molina estimated the construction timeline would shrink from four years to somewhere between two and two-and-a-half years.

“It would have taken longer ‘cause we would have been only moving certain departments at a time,” McAllen Director of Engineering Eduardo Mendoza said during a city commission meeting on Monday.

“We would have built the new building behind us, moved certain departments, been going back and forth. There would have been a lot of coordination involved in that,” he said.

Ultimately, the commission greenlit the revised plan to build across the street. To that end, the commissioners unanimously approved two work authorizations worth more than $3.3 million for Milnet to begin designing the new city hall.

McAllen City Hall on Monday, July 12, 2021, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

The first authorization, for $2.01 million, will go toward designing the project, while more than $1.3 million will go to pay for the construction plan, Mendoza explained.

The design process should take between eight months and a year.

Rodriguez, the city manager, said McAllen still needs to figure out how to pay for that second work authorization.

“We’re gonna work real hard during budget to see if we can fund the whole thing … We still have to come up with the construction dollars that the city commission has to approve,” Rodriguez said Tuesday.

But as many of the commissioners expressed both on Monday and during last month’s meeting with the architect, it’s worth taking the time to do something “right.”

“One of the things is it’s a major project and (we’re) gonna put a lot of money into it, so if we’re gonna do it, let’s do it right,” District 6 Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Cabeza de Vaca said in May.