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