Originally published June 4, 2013 at 03:24p.m., updated June 4, 2013 at 11:48p.m.

Cost estimates for Rock Chalk Park infrastructure come in about $3 million higher than expected; Self’s foundation to make $2 million donation


It’s done. Despite a key cost estimate for roads, sewers and other infrastructure coming in around $3 million more than expected, city commissioners gave the final approvals needed for the city’s 181,000-square-foot recreation center at Rock Chalk Park to move forward.

The late Tuesday night approval capped a busy day for the controversial project. Earlier in the day, Bill Self’s Assists Foundation agreed to make a $2 million donation to partially offset some of the higher-than-expected costs estimated for infrastructure to be built by a group led by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel.

Commissioners on a 4-1 vote authorized City Manager David Corliss to sign a yet-to-be-drafted construction contract with Fritzel’s firm to build the recreation center. That contract — which isn’t scheduled to come back for further City Commission action — will financially commit the city to build the project.

On Tuesday, commissioners acknowledged the project had many twists and turns and required the city to deviate from its standard bidding practices for public projects. But a majority of commissioners expressed supreme optimism about the final product.

“What I’m certain of is it will be a very, very fine facility and will be a good value for the community,” City Commissioner Bob Schumm said. “I’m not ashamed of what we accomplished. I’m very proud of what we accomplished.”

Matter of timing

Tuesday’s final approval of the project was unexpected. City commissioners on their agenda did not list that they would be voting on giving Corliss authority to sign the construction contract. The agenda item was listed as an update, and a staff memo indicated that there would be further agreements for city commissioners to act upon in the future.

The final approval came despite the fact the public had only a matter of hours to review the latest cost estimates for the project. The city released the latest cost estimates for roads, sewers, parking and other infrastructure costs about 2 p.m. on Tuesday, a little more than four hours before the public meeting.

Mayor Mike Dever defended the timing, saying city officials were privy to the estimates for several days earlier and had adequate time to review them.

“As for the public, that is a question that is up to each individual to decide whether there was adequate time,” Dever said. “There was time for an expert assessment of the costs.”

Crunching numbers

As for the new estimates, Kansas University Endowment Association and the private company led by Fritzel estimate the infrastructure, site work and tennis court construction at the site will cost $12. 2 million. City officials had estimated it would cost $9.3 million. The city deviated from its standard practice and gave a no-bid contract to Fritzel’s firm to build the infrastructure for the site, which will hold the city’s new recreation center and several athletic facilities that will be owned by Fritzel’s firm and leased by to Kansas University.

City officials on Tuesday also announced that Self’s Assists Foundation will donate $2 million to help pay for the infrastructure costs, and thus reduce the total amount of money the city will be responsible for paying. The city now says its absolute maximum contribution for the project will be $22.5 million.

That amount is down from a $25 million maximum that the city guaranteed earlier this year when it entered into a joint development agreement with Fritzel’s firm and the Endowment Association. But, as of two weeks ago, city officials were optimistic the amount would be closer to $21.6 million. That’s because bids for the 181,000-square-foot recreation center came in dramatically lower than officials expected. A company led by Fritzel won the construction bid for the center with a $10.5 million bid, which was $8 million to $10 million below what architects had estimated.

Despite that low bid, the higher-than-expected infrastructure costs still position Fritzel’s firms to receive nearly all of the $25 million that it had expected at the beginning of the project. According to numbers provided by the city, the total project costs for the recreation center and associated infrastructure will be $24.5 million — $22.5 million paid by the city and $2 million paid by Self’s foundation.

City engineers examined the cost estimates and said the per unit costs of the work were in line with other infrastructure work being performed across the city. The city plans to do a further audit of the costs after the work is completed.

Engineers said a preliminary analysis found the infrastructure costs were nearly $3 million higher than estimated for a variety of reasons. They included: $583,000 in landscaping costs that were not accounted for; $895,000 in increased costs related to upgraded parking lot pavements; and about $915,000 in legal, interest and construction management costs incurred by the developer.

Construction work on the recreation center — which will include eight gyms, a fitness center, indoor turf area and other amenities — could begin in the next several weeks. The center is expected to be open by late 2014. The recreation center will be adjacent to track, soccer, and softball stadiums that will be owned by Fritzel's group but leased to Kansas University Athletics.


Ryan Woods 7 years, 4 months ago

The city is paying Thomas Fritzel's business to build the park then let him own it? Why is it going to be owned by his firm and not the university? Does anyone know who he is? It seems very odd to give a business ownership of something at no cost to the business. Not to mention the fact that KU now has to rent the location out for any event, instead of owning a location.

texashawk10 7 years, 4 months ago

KU will eventually own the facilities after a set amount of time (I forget how many years until the facilities become KU's).

Kyle Rohde 7 years, 4 months ago

Just in time to tear them down and build newer facilities, conveniently.

Tim Orel 7 years, 4 months ago

If he's who I think he is, he's been a builder in Lawrence for many years. Again, if he's who I'm thinking, I went through school with his son, Andy, though we weren't more than nodding acquaintances.

It does seem like it's a good deal for his company, though.

KUFan90 7 years, 4 months ago

I believe the city will own the rec center. Fritzel owns the track, soccer, and softball stadiums that will be adjacent, but he is building the rec center and the city will own it.

Jim Erickson 7 years, 4 months ago

Why is this not being built on campus? Does anyone know the reason for that?

Dirk Medema 7 years, 4 months ago

Except for all the facilities that aren't included in the rendering.

TxJyHwk 7 years, 4 months ago

The reason for it not being on campus and not being owned by the university is so they can hold AAU events there without violating NCAA rules.

KemDooKU 7 years, 4 months ago

The NCAA and their rules - what a pompous empire!

kureader 7 years, 4 months ago

I hope you're wrong. This is a complicated, but interesting, example of a City, a university, a major developer (and KU alum), and a philanthropic organization working together to achieve each other's goals. There are bound to be compromises. You mentioned the location for KU athletes, but then again KU didn't have to pay for the facility. Over time, Fritzel should make some money on rent and concessions, but I believe he's building the facility for a fraction of what it might have otherwise cost. I don't pretend to understand the financial justification or other motivations of the City, but if Bill Self's foundation wants to kick in 2 mil to make it work, that's good enough for me. I'm looking forward to seeing the completed facility. The other shoe can now drop ... maybe in late 2014. That is: What will now be the plan for the football stadium? It's THIS project that will bring some heated debate. This project could cost 50 million, it could cost 150 million. Whatever it is, KU need to keep its powder dry for this project and let the City build the project in NW Lawrence.

Dirk Medema 7 years, 4 months ago

Fritzel is a businessman, so you can bet that he is making some profit vs. donating his time and interest out of the goodness of his heart. That's not bad though, because so would any other company that would bid on design and construction of any facilities at KU or just about anywhere else.

The fact that Coach Self is chipping in big time indicates that not only do we have one of the best coaches in the world, but it has also passed inspection by him and his reps. You can bet that it is a good investment, both in KU and the BB team in particular. More HS athletes will be able to come to Lawrence more often, and the park is a lot closer than some of the other, non-Lawrence options.

You are very correct that the biggest factor is that we get to save our pennies for the FB reno. Now there is where the big $ come into play.

texashawk10 7 years, 4 months ago

It's really not a big deal moving those three facilities off campus. Softball only plays about 1/3 of their games in Lawrence and doesn't draw very many fans when they are at home, soccer averages less than 500 people per match, and KU's current outdoor facilities are ridiculously out of date and also hurting the perception of the football program. Moving the facilities closer to where the bulk of Lawrence's population lives should help attendance for those two sports. This will also immensely help the track program because KU will be able to actually host collegiate meets such as the Big 12 and NCAA outdoor championships because the track will actually meet current standards. There's also been talk that the new track facility could also host US nationals in the near future because the quality of the facilities. If KU gets anyone of those three meets besides the Relays, that's extra revenue coming into the city because of tourism and the athletes staying in town while those meets are going on.

Dirk Medema 7 years, 4 months ago

I will be huge to have world class T&F facilities again. That has a trickle down effect on the football program when speedsters want to try their hand at both.

Jeff Kilgore 7 years, 4 months ago

Want to drive that far? It can't be more than 10 minutes away. Athletes will be able to get off campus. Besides, won't the university take them on a bus?

Ron Prichard 7 years, 4 months ago

If I understand correctly, atl, the location needed to be within a certain distance from major roads in order to be considered for some of the larger national and international meets. If it was on campus KU would not have been considered for those meets. It's those meets that are supposed to bring in additional revenue and raise our track and field profile. Also, by putting it where it is, it can be used for AAU basketball tournaments, which could help recruiting. Finally, it would seem the city could use it for soccer, softball and basketball tournaments. I wish it was on campus, too, but all in all I think it will be great for KU.

Bville Hawk 7 years, 4 months ago

I have never seen anything about NCAA rules and AAU events having anything to do with the arrangement with Fritzel. I think it was mainly for tax considerations that KUAD chose to go this route of leasing for X number of years. Also, if KUAD builds it outright then they have to come up with $25 million or so and that much more debt would make any kind of renovation at Memorial Stadium impossible. Under this arrangement I think they can start work on Memorial Stadium as soon as they know exactly they want to do.

You guys need to read the back articles on this subject before you start speculating and criticizing. This is a good deal for KUAD.

Brad Farha 7 years, 4 months ago

Another factor is that it costs the University less to do it this way, and that lessor amount is spread out over time. At the end of the lease, it's my understanding that ownership will go to the University.

actorman 7 years, 4 months ago

Well said, bville. I'd say that given how well Zenger has done in so many areas, he certainly deserves the benefit of the doubt that he knows what he's doing.

It's hard to argue with what a tremendous hire he's been for KU.

Dirk Medema 7 years, 4 months ago

You may not have seen anything about NCAA rules and AAU events being directly linked to the arrangement with Fritzel, but you haven't been paying attention if you aren't aware of at least the first part of that (NCAA/AAU). You gotta know that is why Coach Self has $2M worth of interest. He knows that RCP is really close to campus (for a HS athlete), so if he can get them to Lawrence, he can get them to campus. Getting them to the best uni around is more than half the recruiting battle.

That being said, you are also absolutely on target with respect to taxes and having available capital. Zenger rocks too.

Jeff Coffman 7 years, 4 months ago

So 22.5 MM extra dollars saved by KU in order to facilitate the reconfiguration of the football stadium. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

I'm sure there will be negative comments about the Olympic Sports being shoved off campus, but I would imagine the facilities will be awesome. I'm pretty sure that the University has already figured out logistics for them to get to the park.

Anyways, we might be the last DI school with a track around it, but hopefully that will change shortly.

Al Martin 7 years, 4 months ago

Exactly right. A generous donation, considering that it directly benefits the track and field team, and indirectly benefits football, with no obvious benefit to basketball.

Dirk Medema 7 years, 4 months ago

AAU events, and getting HS athletes to Lawrence/campus is a HUGE benefit. Coach definitely listens to what his athletes are saying, like the first thing to be done after the NC was reno's for the Towers. Build it, and they will come.

dylans 7 years, 4 months ago

If the main money maker (football) can pull in more revenue and put more people in the stands, then it takes financial pressure off the basketball team. Football has more political and financial sway. If the football team was respectable KU wouldn't get left out of expansion talks. Also Big 10 schools are big into Olympic sports, could this be a coincidence?

Micky Baker 7 years, 4 months ago

Why is this project controversial? One one hand, people want a separate facility for track and field, and they got it. On the other, they're upset at its location. The whole town of Lawrence will benefit when the football team starts winning games with upgrades to the stadium that put the fans closer to the field. It can get very loud there, but move the fans closer by 75 feet, and you have a decisive 12th man, if the fans get rowdy. The fans need to do that at the start.

The fans also shouldn't be leaving at half time. You don't do that at basketball games. If you're going to get the tickets then leave at the half, don't buy the tickets and let someone who will stay for the whole game buy them.

741hawk 7 years, 4 months ago

The city underestimated infrastructure, site work and tennis court construction costs by 31%. Great work, Lawrence! Typical for a govt entity. If I missed the mark by 31% I'd be fired.

actorman 7 years, 4 months ago

I'm so sick of that anti-government crap. Yes, governments sometimes fit the stereotype. But it's funny how people conveniently ignore all the things that corporations do wrong. It's not like there's a choice between governments and something that's perfect. It generally comes down to either public or private funding, and I would rather have someone funding something that is providing for the community, rather than focused solely on making a profit.

actorman 7 years, 4 months ago

No, the profit motive is fine, as long as there's some regulation in place to keep it from getting out of control (see banks, oil companies, etc., etc., etc.).

But there are certain things that are better handled by the public sector. For example, one of our biggest national travesties as how many prisons are being built and run privately. There should never be a financial incentive to put more people behind bars. And when it comes to something like protecting the environment, profit motive alone will never work.

Dirk Medema 7 years, 4 months ago

You missed the part about upgraded pavement, and included landscaping and fees. Didn't really miss by that much. Besides, bidding is a bit of a shell game. Sort of like under bidding the initial contract so that you get the award, then the second contract is sole sourced. It's really not coincidental that the final price is right back on the mark. It's how the game is played.

Keep your eye on construction change orders too. That's where companies make their profit, and managers make their bonuses. (No one commented on how much contingency $M is in the contract.)

Robbk1066 7 years, 4 months ago

I hope that when this is all said and done we are not embarrassed by the way this was accomplished, or the lack of vetting done by those who should have. Something does not add up here and things don't make sense to the level that they should.

There are three kinds of people in the world. One's that learn by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves. Will Rogers

Lets hope we are in the first group or at least the second...

Chris Baker 7 years, 4 months ago

This whole thing absolutely stinks of red flags left and right. No bid contracts? Nearly 1/3 over budget before work has started? Hurriedly approved without any public notice? A charitable organization dumping funds into a private endeavor in order to help "blunt" the impact of the cost overruns?

This sounds like a great big mess, and makes me question who's pockets are being lined here to make this happen? (Yes plural, not just Fritzel whom we already know stands to gain big time) If there are any honest reporters in this town who want to go after this, I bet there is a juicy story to be found!

dylans 7 years, 4 months ago

Wescoe beach is a very cool sight. Wescoe the building is ugly as sin. It looks like an unfinished parking garage...wait that's what it is.

bayareajhawk 7 years, 4 months ago

I don't want to fire you up any more than you already are, but you might be interested to know that Fritzel built The Oread as well. Apologiesif you already knew that and were just being subtle.

As a current Lawrence resident, I can assure you that the bus system is pretty good and it shouldn't be that difficult to get the kids over there. Kasold might be the middle of the town now in terms of East/West as Lawrence continues to grow in a westerly direction.

Michael Pannacciulli 7 years, 4 months ago

I just can't get over the distance factor from the school. I expect shady dealings, blown budgets and the like but I expect this to be housed on KU grounds. So will cost a bit more...we are a sports crazy school and that comes with the territory. This will not get the top fligjt athletes uber excited unless the build a new dorm as well over there. KU trackand softball should be on KU's campus. Period.

Al Martin 7 years, 4 months ago

You know, that's a fine sentiment and all, but I just spent a few minutes looking around Google maps, and I'm just curious where you think you'd put it. There isn't room in the space behind Allen Fieldhouse for a full size track, much less the other buildings and parking necessary for a world class facility. You might be able to do it on West Campus, but it's not clear that the geography is suitable (might be, though).

Other than that, what? Pave over Potter's Lake?

Al Martin 7 years, 4 months ago

Okay, I guess you can wedge that thing in there. Didn't look that way on Google maps. That still doesn't look like a complete facility to me. Looks like a track, small set of bleachers, and no additional parking. It doesn't look to me like a facility capable of housing an NCAA meet, and it certainly doesn't look anything like anything that would excite recruits.

This: , however, looks like a complete facility. I think an exciting, attractive facility can do a lot to draw in fans...

Al Martin 7 years, 4 months ago

I hate replying to myself, but on further thought, the parking in the on campus solution you showed really wouldn't be a problem. If we can handle 16,300 in Allen Fieldhouse, we could handle a track and field crowd.

So, you've got a fair point. I think the facility being built is superior in a number of ways, but there's ample room for disagreement.

VailHawk 7 years, 4 months ago

Interesting reading the comments...didn't recognize a single poster...where did they go and where was JB, Apherse, et al?

Kyle Rohde 7 years, 4 months ago

When this first got talked about, I was confused why it wasn't going on the gigantic plot of land that's mostly undeveloped and owned by KU (west campus). I remember people responding and telling me that the land was so hilly that the costs to create the massive level surface needed for all these buildings would have made the costs massive. Not sure if that's true or not but that's what I remember.

Jeff Kilgore 7 years, 4 months ago

You act like it's in Afghanistan! It's what, four miles? Ten minutes? How hard would it be to organize three or four busses there and back? There aren't many places to build, right?

dylans 7 years, 4 months ago

The parking lots are oversold due to all the kids with cars. The transit system is already city wide. I lived off campus to the west (in the 90s) and a university bus route already ran out a mile or more west of Clinton. I really don't see the problem. If you haven't visited Lawrence in the last 5-10 years go. Lawrence is in a constant state of growth and evolution. Go down Mass. Street every six months and count the turnover in those businesses.

Micky Baker 7 years, 4 months ago

Just FYI, it costs the university roughly the same amount if the lease it or own. They don't have to maintain it if they lease it and those maintenance costs probably exceed the leasing the cost over the long term. The only thing that bothers me is the $3 million in extra costs, but the Self Foundation donated 2/3rds of it so it won't cost the tax payers that much more.

texashawk10 7 years, 4 months ago

I don't get the complaining about the distance from campus. It takes about 15 minutes max to get anywhere in Lawrence unless you're leaving a football or basketball game. If you live on campus and walk to a soccer, softball, or the stadium, it takes about 10-15 minutes from most of the dorms on campus or the ghetto. Less than 2% of the student population at KU even attended either soccer or softball games so this relocation is affecting a few hundred people at best out of the approximately 30,000 students at KU.

crimsonorblue22 7 years, 4 months ago

You are exactly right, and out-of-state athletes are even less likely to have a car. There are so many track athletes, it will be a nightmare to transport them. It's not like they have a set practice all together. And will KU get to host other meets, or does Fritzel host them?

texashawk10 7 years, 4 months ago

It's called carpooling, people do that quite frequently at KU, especially the athletes. It's not a significant deterrent. Besides the soccer and softball fields will still be on campus for practices and the weight facilities are still on campus. A track can be built behind the Fieldhouse so the runners can also practice on campus. Transportation isn't really the issue you're trying to make it into.

Pitthawk34 7 years, 4 months ago

If you build it they will come, plus we will get rid of that god awful track, oh yes if you build it they will come...Rock chalk. muck fizzou

Kay Jensen 7 years, 4 months ago

Those of you that think the facility is THAT far from campus must not get out much. Lawrence is tiny...what is it, maybe a 10-15 minute drive. My goodness.

Kay Jensen 7 years, 4 months ago

So many schools would kill to have a facility like this. I'm going to Hayward Field on Saturday, and to think that KU could have a comparable world-class facility that could attract an NCAA Outdoor championship, or even an Olympic trials is unreal. I'm sure the transportation issue for students will be worked out.

crimsonorblue22 7 years, 4 months ago

Wish I could go, root them on! Have you seen a recent blueprint of new stadium? Let us know how they compare.

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