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Commissioners question center's rising cost

Two members want to know how $6.2-million ballooned to $8.3-million.

By NICK JOHNSON
Published May 20, 2007


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ST. PETE BEACH - The St. Pete Beach City Commission will hold a special meeting to address concerns Commissioners Linda Chaney and Harry Metz have voiced over spending on the new community center.

The meeting, set for May 29, will include an informal audit of all costs and construction on the project to date.

Chaney and Metz both took office after the City Commission had already decided by a unanimous vote to approve the current budget for the project. Originally budgeted at about $6.2-million, the final budgeted amount will be closer to $8.3-million.

The commissioners want to know why and how the money is being spent.

"Architects and builders in the community have told me there's no way architects come in and estimate a project at $4-million, and it ends up at $8.3-million. Something is wrong, " Chaney said.

City officials are confident that the spending and added expenses have not been unusual for a project of this size and that the special meeting will bring the newcomers up to speed.

"It was never a $3-million project, " said City Manager Mike Bonfield. "The original estimate for the building, which was only one component, was over $3-million."

The original building Bonfield is referring to is the actual community center; the project has grown to include a number of other additions and renovations to the site. The pool, skate park, and renovations to the existing gymnasium and sections of Boca Ciega Drive, are all included in the final budgeted amount.

Several recent issues involving change orders for the project, including the unforeseen cost of replacing the center's parking lot, have sparked the concern. Metz said he would like officials to explain where the costs came from. Chaney feels the city is getting more than it bargained for.

"To me it's as if we ordered a Cadillac, we're driving a Chevy off the lot, and we paid for a Rolls-Royce, " she said. "I want to know why."

Officials maintain that all the costs are well accounted for and have been passed by the council. Additional costs have been the result of a higher than expected bid by Henessy Construction Services and some unforeseen problems like replacing the parking lot.

Political division within the city has also put a damper on fundraising, which the city was expecting to help with the bill.

"The comprehensive plan has really divided the community, and it affected our fundraising ability, " Leisure Services director Mike Whelan said. The city had to rely on loans in place of the donations.

Mayor Ward Friszolowski said he wouldn't classify any of the city's spending as irresponsible and he was confident the commissioners would have their questions answered at the meeting. He said the community had made it clear that they supported the project.

"We had an overwhelming response from the public that said; 'yes we understand what the cost is, and we want to go ahead and do it, ' " he said.

The grand opening for the community center is set for July 7.

Nick Johnson can be reached at nickjohnson@sptimes.com or 893-8361.

Time line

Plan has taken years

Time line of actions taken by the City Commission on the community center project.

Oct. 1, 2002: Fiscal Year 2003 Budget includes $50, 000 for planning and improvement for existing gymnasium.

Sept. 28, 2004: City Commission approves 5-0 to accept renovation/expansion plan presented by Woodroffe Corporation Architects.

Oct. 1, 2005: Fiscal Year 2006 Budget includes an additional $5.2-million for the Community Center, bringing the total to about $6.3-million.

Oct. 1, 2006: Fiscal Year 2007 budget includes additional $2, 094, 000. Grand total budgeted is now $8, 330, 000.

Oct. 1, 2010: Total amount budgeted to this point is projected to be just over $9.5-million.

[Last modified May 19, 2007, 20:56:45]


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