Columbia County's Westside Community Center: Previously funded, now in limbo - maybe not a bad idea
Columbia County, FL (Posted December 02, 2011 06:05 pm)
The proposed Westside Community Center. (Drawing by Freeman Design Group)
Columbia County's proposed Westside Community Center was initially approved to be built on July 1, 2010 when the County Commission approved the project at a public hearing and determined that it would suit the community's needs to self perform the project. The County claimed this would result in savings to the community, business for local contractors and work for their employees.
During that July 2010 County Commission meeting, the County Staff presentation showed the cost to construct the center to be $475,997.
Sometime after that a citizens committee was formed to review the plans and make recommendations, which escalated the price to $611,404. It is unknown who was on the committee. Until last night the extent of the changes were never made public.
In typical legendary Columbia County style, no public request was made for the volunteers.
Sometime after July 2010, Tommy Mathews, an experienced construction superintendent, was hired as the County's special project manager. The Westside Community Center became his project.
Recently, Mr. Mathews value engineered the project making changes which reduced the construction cost to $490,818.71.
A spread sheet showing the changes and cost savings was not provided.
Mr. Mathews told the Observer that the County's Purchasing Department put the project out to bid and many sealed bids were received and opened by Purchasing Director Ben Scott and himself.
Last night, in a split vote, the Board voted to put the already approved project on hold.
The Board Discussion
County Manager Dale Williams explained a history of the project.
Mr. Matthews explained that a number of external modifications to the original plan have reduced the cost of the building.
Commissioner DuPree explained that the citizens committee was not privy to the suggested changes.
Commissioner DuPree explained that the Westside Community Center is larger than some of the other Community Centers because some residents wanted to be able to use round tables for weddings.
District 1 Commissioner Ronald Williams explained that the Winfield community center uses round tables for banquets all the time.
Commissioner Bailey Inquires
Commissioner Bailey asked about the total cost of the project.
Mr. Matthews said he could only address the cost of the building, which after his value engineering was $490,818.71.
County Manager Dale Williams added that the pre construction expenses were $290,000, which included everything except the construction. This is $13,182 an acre for the 22 acre site.
Adding the two numbers together, the total cost for the Westside Community Center is $780,818.71.
This is a borrow pit being reclaimed. Photo courtesy of NOAA.
The Borrow Pit
Commissioner DuPree explained that 5 acres of the site were going to be proposed for use as a borrow pit. This is a pit that is used to supply fill dirt.
Commissioner Williams said he thought the 22 acres was purchased for the future use of baseball fields, softball fields, tennis courts and recreation.
Commissioner Williams said: I would hate to think that we spent that much money for that property to dig a 5 or 6 acre retention pond.
Commissioner DuPree: You certainly have that option at this point.
Commissioner DuPree asked: What's the pleasure of the Board?
Commissioner Frisina asked, "How much money is left in that account that was set up a long time ago?"
County Manager Dale Williams responded that the original account was $300,000; there is $10,000 left in that account.
CM Williams continued, "Technically, the request tonight is for $481,000."
Commissioner DePratter: I make a motion that we do this, for discussion, if we get a second.
When it became obvious that the motion was going to die for the lack of a second, Commissioner DuPree relinquished the chair and seconded the motion.
Commissioner Frisina: I have a motion to move forward with the Westside Community Center project.
Nobody remembered the money was already approved
After some discussion by Commissioner DePratter, Commissioner Bailey asked where the money was coming from to complete the project.
On July 1, 2010, Commissioner Bailey, along with the rest of the Board, voted to use $419,502 of year end [2008-09] funds to fund the project. Nobody remembered.
County Manager Williams suggested the money now come from "the non-allocated revenue balances that we had at the end of the last physical year." [2010-11]
Commissioner Bailey said, "I want everything compiled. I don't want to keep piecing away at it."
County Manager Williams asked, "Commissioner you want the same list we already presented, you want to see it again?"
Commissioner DuPree: When this first came up the board approved the project. Now Commissioner Bailey is requesting to see a breakdown of the project. That's what we are doing here tonight? Is that correct?
County Manager Williams: What we are doing here tonight is -- at your request we placed this on the agenda. The breakdown of the costs was presented at a previous meeting. That was several months ago, if I remember.
Commissioner Bailey: It was high.
Commissioner DuPree: It was a year ago... This is the first time a vote has ever been presented to the Board.
County Manager Williams: Publicly -- yeah.
Commissioner DuPree called the question.
The commissioners whose districts would be served by the new community center, Messer's DuPree and DePratter voted to move forward with the project.
Commissioners Bailey, Williams, and Frisina were opposed.
The Westside Community Center project was approved, along with its funding on July 1, 2010.
Last night the County Commission voted to stop and think.
Recently, the County Commission, at the 12th hour gave all county employees a bonus, which will cost the county treasury over 1 million dollars.
This past Wednesday, the Commission approved $250,000 of seed money for a water working group.
The attorney fees to fight the County EMS workers must be in the tens and tens of thousands of dollars. Should they loose their PERC hearing and have to reinstate the EMS service, the costs are expected to be over a million dollars.
It is costing $300,000 a year in subsidies toward the Ellisville Utility Boondoggle.
Mr. Bailey's thought to stop and think might not be such a bad idea after all.