GARNER — Councilman Gra Singleton voted against approving a Parks And Recreation Trust Fund grant application because he believes planning for the center has been rushed with too many cuts to amenities made.
The rest of council approved the PARTF grant application, though there have been at least undercurrents of dissatisfaction with design firm Clark Nexsen among the council members, according to Mayor Ronnie Williams. But the majority said design problems can be worked out over the next year and a half.
Clark Nexsen has a contract for concept design with work likely to be completed in early February. Building design has not yet been contracted..
The application for the state grant, with a maximum award of $400,000, requires a concept and site plan but not finalized designs. The state will announce the recipients of $5 million in grants in August, and Town Manager Hardin Watkins said the town should have as good a case as any based on criteria. The town plans to begin a one-year design process in the fall.
Singleton said the process had been rushed, with the application for the grant not started until Nov. 21. He stessed getting the “most expensive building Garner has ever built” right.
“They’re just rushing to get the grant. You don’t build an $8 million building in a six-week process,” Singleton said. “My point is you don’t have time to do it right, but you have time to do it over. What we’re moving forward with is not the right concept. Some of it is good, but there’s too many questions.”
The application laid out a facility with two full-sized gyms, a walking track around them on the second level, three mufti-purpose rooms and 230 on-site parking spaces. The town will have three years to spend the grant money once awarded.
Watkins said many of the questions could be addressed at the town leaders’ retreat Feb. 12-13 to hone in on a more specific vision, and further problems could be ironed out in coming months.
Williams confirmed that both staff and council members other than Singleton had voiced concerns over designs. Singleton said he liked aspects, but thought that to meet the projected $7.7 million budget designers cut more programming space then they had too.
“I think the concepts are flawed. I don’t think we’re maximizing the use of space. The layout is not the best it can be,” Singleton said.
In particular, he said the three muliti-purpose use rooms could be efficiently doubled by building three more on the second floor, and that common space like hallways had been over-budgeted. He still also hopes for space for three full basketball courts.
Clark Nexsen had laid out concepts with more space, but indicated that cost estimates would put the project significantly over budget.
Watkins noted that all costs were rough estimates.
“The cost is what a contractor will build it for,” Watkins said. That bid process has been targeted for September 2015.
Singleton also worried that if either a library or business moved onto the Main Street block as hoped, there could be a parking shortage.
Councilman Jackie Johns said the town has been talking about a rec center for 15 to 20 years. Budget limitations wouldn’t change as time passed, he said.
“The voters of Garner have approved us to build a center,” Johns said. “There comes a time where you have to move forward when you don’t want to. Unless someone leaves the town $3-4 million, you’re still going to be behind.”
Watkins reserved judgement on Clark Nexsen, saying he felt like the firm had been attentive to council’s concerns.
“We’re not going to comment on the coach’s performance until the season’s over,” Watkins said, putting it in football terms.
Watkins did note council frustrations apparent in two public meetings, and said the first public session at GPAC could have been run smoother. But he also noted that the scope of the contract doesn’t call for a finished product.
“This is $63,500 to come up with a site plan, not a six-figure plan to design a building.
Councilman Buck Kennedy, an engineer, also largely reserved judgement, and gave the firm the benefit of the doubt. But he also sympathized with Singleton’s perspective and credited him for going beyond talk and working hard for a solution.
“He recognizes the issue of using space, and how to optimize the space under a roof to optimze a budget. I think people would be wise to understand that Gra speaks from experience,” Kennedy said.
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