Budget CRUNCH

Crescent Park upgrade project stalls

Times Observer Photo by Josh Cotton DPW Director Mike Holtz told Warren City Council on Monday that the previously awarded funding from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources that would rehabilitate and extend the limestone trail, install lights, water, electricity for the pavilion as well as ADA restroom improvements and the infrastructure needed for the Healing Garden has gone over budget by $175, 000.

City of Warren officials are going back to the drawing board on a park project that came in significantly over budget.

The project as initially presented would have drastically improved Crescent Park and paved the way for the installation of a Healing Garden.

Department Public Works Director Mike Holtz told Warren City Council on Monday that the city was previously awarded funding from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources that would rehabilitate and extend the limestone trail, install lights, water, electricity for the pavilion as well as ADA restroom improvements and the infrastructure needed for the Healing Garden.

Holtz explained the initial budget and funding arrangements.

The initial budget for the project was $330,000 – $165,000 from the state matched by $165,000 from the city’s general fund. But the lowest bids totaled $509,046 – over $175,000 over budget.

Times Observer Photo by Josh Cotton The project intended to drastically improve Crescent Park and pave the way for the installation of a Healing Garden has gone over budget, according to DPW Director Mike Holtz. He said the chances of obtaining additional funding for the project, “sound positive,” but Mayor Maurice Cashman suggested they may need to “go back to the drawing board.”

Holtz said city staff researched alternatives to make up the deficit. Those solutions include requesting an additional $89,000 in state funding, which would require another $89,000 commitment from the city.

He said the city would seek assistance from local foundations but could also take funding from the capital improvement budget which includes $275,000 for projects that won’t be completed until 2020. He also added that the request from the state could be changed to include reimbursement for some professional service costs that have already been spent on the project.

Mayor Maurice Cashman asked about the chances of obtaining that additional state funding.

“They sound positive,” Holtz said. “They sound like they would highly consider it.”

He explained that the state “appreciates the quality of our projects. (I) think we have a very good chance of getting it.”

Cashman then asked what happens to the project if it is delayed.

Holtz said it’s a “contractor’s world out there” with prices going up. Additionally, the work might not be completed until next year.

“The longer we bottleneck these up,” he said, “the longer it slows up our next grant application.”

“How did this project get so far out of line?” Cashman asked.

Holtz said he attributes “half to the (price) climate” and half to the fact that the city “could have done better, done a little better job in the budgeting. Things (costs) are higher than ever this year, the atmosphere and we missed.”

Councilman Phil Gilbert asked if the funding from the state could be shifted to a trail project behind the former Loranger’s building along the Allegheny River.

The city’s contractor for the state, however, is specific to this project.

Holtz noted that the “Healing Garden is not part of this project” and Gilbert asked what the cost would be to maintain that once installed.

“I don’t think it’s huge,” Holtz said. “(It) ends up being more time than money, truly.”

Cashman then asked if the project could be pared back.

“The problem with that question, the single biggest project is the lights,” Holtz said. “(If we) take the lights out, the project looks a lot different. The lights were (a) selling point. It’s tough to cut the project. DCNR feels that we sold them on this project, (the) narrative (is) built around all these little components. To lessen it goes against some of the narratives.”

“With the agreement we have with the state, these items are listed right in the agreement,” City Planner David Hildebrand said. “If we start to pull out lighting or anything else, (we) have to go back and amend the agreement with the state.”

“The DCNR has to understand there are budget crunches,” Cashman said. “I’m in favor of this project. Not at this level. It’s just too far over budget. It something that we gotta go back to the drawing board, in my view.”

Council didn’t put a motion on the floor.

After the meeting, Holtz said the next step would be to try to scale down the project.

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