Ahoskie project faces cost overruns

Published 9:04 pm Sunday, October 25, 2009

AHOSKIE – Plans for the Ahoskie Creek Recreational Complex have hit a financial snag.

On Thursday, members of the Ahoskie Town Council were briefed on the issue during the resumption of their meeting recessed from Oct. 13.

The most glaring issue facing the council was the project is nearly $500,000 in the hole and the first shovel of dirt has yet to be turned on the complex, located in the FEMA buyout area in what was once the Lakewood Drive, Edgewood Drive neighborhood.

On June 30, 2008, council approved borrowing $1.1 million for the project. That money, along with a $500,000 PARTF (Parks and Recreation Trust Fund) grant, was earmarked for softball fields, multi-purpose football/soccer fields, playgrounds, concession stand/restroom facility and picnic shelters. Other plans for the recreational complex include a dog walking trail and a water park.

Now, nearly 17 months later, the projected construction and associated costs has skyrocketed to over $2 million ($2,065,310.50).

On Oct. 2 of this year, the town opened construction bids for the project received from six companies. American Builders of Greenville submitted the apparent low bid ($1.31 million). However, due to a math error, American was forced to withdraw its bid.

That left the project to the next lowest bidder – Heaton Construction of Roanoke Rapids. They proposed to perform the work for $1.69 million.

Adding in the contingency fund, engineering design, permits and grant administration fees took the total cost to over $2 million.

“There are some issues among the council in regards to the finances (of this project),” Ahoskie Town Manager Tony Hammond said.

In an effort to resolve some of those financial concerns, Hammond said Heaton Construction had agreed to perform a value engineering process. That is where a contractor looks for cost-saving measures.

“(Heaton) has agreed to do this at their own cost,” Hammond informed the council members. “They said they may be able to shave between $200,000 to $300,000 off the construction costs.”

Dan Boone of the Wooten Company, the town’s engineering firm, was at Thursday’s meeting. He said Wooten feels comfortable with awarding the contract to Heaton.

“Taking into consideration the value engineering aspect of this project, you (council) may be better suited to wait until your November meeting to discuss awarding them the construction contract,” Boone said.

However, time is not on Ahoskie’s side in this project. The town is obliged to award the construction contract by Dec. 31 or start over from scratch. Additionally, Ahoskie Recreation Director Dennis Everett pointed out at Thursday’s meeting that the town must use the PARTF grant by 2011 or forfeit that $500,000.

Everett stressed the need for the complex, saying the town’s outdoor recreational programs are growing in popularity.

“We’re bursting at the seams (in program participation),” he noted. “Plus this planned facility makes Ahoskie attractive when it comes to hosting sanctioned youth baseball/softball tournaments as well as adult softball tournaments.”

Everett said the economic impact on the town was in the $7,000 to $10,000 range per tournament.

Hammond agreed with Everett’s economic impact assumption.

“This project has the potential to generate revenue for the town,” Hammond said. “Plus, this is a one-of-a-kind facility in our area. There’s not another one like it around the tri-county area.”

Returning to the value engineering discussion, Hammond said Heaton was looking at “packed gravel” parking lots (instead of asphalt), lowering the number of truckloads of dirt needed for the ball fields and considering a “stick built” concession stand/restroom facility instead of a more costly pre-fab model.

Councilman Ronald Gatling, who presided over Thursday’s meeting as Mayor Pro-Tem in the absence of Mayor Linda Blackburn, asked if the town’s Public Works employees could perform some of the construction in an effort to curtail costs.

“Yes, they can to certain portions of the project, but the town lacks the earth-moving equipment needed on a large portion of the project,” Hammond answered.

Council members Malcolm Copeland and Elaine Myers each weighed-in on the projected cost overruns of the project.

“We need to be very, very careful when looking at this,” Copeland said. “I’m in favor of this project, but what I do not want to see is us having to raise taxes to pay for this. We have a lot on us right now with payments on the new wastewater treatment plant (currently under construction) and the new police station.”

“When you look at this project, it’s great for the town,” Myers said, “but can we afford it.”

“Why can’t we get shovel-ready (state/federal) funds for this,” asked Gatling. “It’s a shovel-ready project and I keep hearing about funds for shovel-ready projects.”

Boone said he had heard of no such funds available for these type projects.

Copeland motioned to table awarding the bid until the November meeting in an effort to give Heaton Construction the time it needs to come up with the final figures following its value engineering process. That motion was approved by unanimous vote.