Let’s talk about the community center.
Last year I proposed that we build a community center. I said that it should not be just a giant gym. The success of the recent art studio we opened at the Nike Base points to the demand for activities beyond just sports. And I said it should replace some of our facilities that need repair—like the Golden Age Center. After all, do we really want to invest hundreds of thousands (if not millions) in updating that old building, (which was once a military bunker)? It needs a roof and a whole lot of other work.
We could make the Community Center a real hub for the island – library, conference rooms, community service offices… I see so much potential after talking to all of you. But to avoid a fiasco, we need to do this right.
The Bedell Shed Revisited
We must learn from our mistakes as a community. Before I was in office, the town built a massive shed to house our Parks Department. It’s off Bedell (1881 Bedell Road). I barked about it during my campaign in 2015. I thought the process was not transparent, not clear, and just not right. Some will say, “It’s legal!” Well, legally defensible maybe. There are shades of legality. But that’s something very different from right.
Let’s examine the bare facts. Even assuming that the bidding process for the Bedell structure was all tight and done right, let’s look at the reality of what we got for the money we spent.
The Park Maintenance Building is assessed for $600K. That seems about right. It’s a big, pre-fab building with some lipstick on it. But guess what? The purchase price of the building was originally $1,376,184! Moreover, there were change orders (things that were not planned for that had to be added) totaling $56,940.
And on top of that, we paid rent and taxes. You see, before we owned it outright there was a lease agreement, which commenced in Aug 2015 and lasted for close to a year at almost $10,000 a month. Thus, the cost for the $600K building was well over 1. 5 million! All this on a project which was done privately, and was supposed to save us money.
Sound like a good deal to you? I must point out, we still don’t have what was originally promised. The building is fine for its purposes, but not quite like what we expected, including a lack of parking and the fact that we had to add a connecting trail to Veteran’s Park.
Something is wrong with this picture.
I only dig it all up again now because the ghoulish precedent of the Bedell shed is trying to drag us all back down into its grave. I feel that some are trying to do things the same way as a sort of cure or anecdote for their past mistakes. Do we now actually have the arrogance to propose going forward with the community center in the same foolish manner that we built that overpriced shed?
The most common way public projects are built across the country is simple. The public builds on public land. Even going with a private party to construct still requires that the private party meets key legal requirements, like payment of prevailing wages. Thus, before we talk about getting away from the safest model (not just the most legally defensible model) we need to take the proper steps and not just submit an RFP and hope for the best.
I’m solutions oriented. This is what I suggest.
1. PROPERLY GATHER INPUT. Have you had a say? Has there been any public hearing about where it should be held or even look like? The answer to each of these questions is a resounding “NO.”
2. CREATE A PROPER DESIGN. Only after we really know what the public wants (or if it wants it) can we create a design.
3. PUT A PRICE TAG ON IT: With a design created and a general geographic location identified, we can better understand what this might actually cost and therefore put it on the table and ask for a vote by the citizens—let’s do this in November!
4. HIRE SOMEONE TO KEEP AN EYE ON IT. Finally, we will need someone to watch over the process, count every screw, every nail, and put their fingerprints over every blueprint.
I will not vote for something that we create on a hunch.
To anyone that claims we can do this in-house I suggest you talk to the Town Engineer. John is a brilliant man in many ways. But his job is to protect and maintain our Town infrastructure, like the sewer system. Building a Community Center is a totally different role.
To anyone who says they ‘got this’ and that they are as good as the experts, I would say that gathering input and completing a design are two very different things. Relying on few chats with the folks at the Recreation Department and putting together some sketches on a notepad and then thinking you can go on that to build a multi-million dollar facility is just plain nuts.
I’m frustrated that we don’t already have shovels in the ground. You know by now, that I’m about moving forward and not idling in place. I wish we could hurry this thing through, but we have to do it the right way so it is the best it can be for all of Grand Island. I strongly believe we need a Community Center. But we need to ensure community input, ensure proper public accountability, and ensure that we create something we can all be proud of.
Or we could just wing it and build another shed . . .
With highest regards,
p.s. I am going to start a monthly ‘Coffee Hour with the Supervisor’. The first Saturday of the month. The first one will be June 3rd at McMahon’s at 11 am. Join us!