By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Cost overruns at a planned park in Santa Rosa’s Roseland neighborhood are the latest in a steady stream of problems facing the city’s Recreation and Parks Department.
The consulting firm hired to design Bayer Neighborhood Park and Garden on West Avenue says it needs an additional $320,000 and two more years to complete work on the long-delayed project.
The increase would bring the total cost of community outreach and design services to $1.35 million, a figure that surprised several City Council members when they heard it earlier this month.
Mayor Scott Bartley calculated the new cost as 21 percent of the $6.5 million estimated cost to construct the park, “which by any stretch of the imagination is exorbitant.”
Councilman Gary Wysocky also balked at the higher figure, stressing how many other needs there are in the cash-strapped department.
“This is a 30 percent change order, is what this is,” Wysocky said. “Wow!”
Assistant City Manager Jennifer Phillips explained that the costs increased because the scope of the project expanded significantly once the community got involved in helping design the park.
Originally, the park was envisioned to rehabilitate the old farmhouse and barn on the property. But over the course of “20 or 30 meetings” with the community, numerous other features were added, including a community building, commercial kitchen, offices for LandPaths and a caretaker’s residence.
“It was a wonderful collaborative effort from a community engagement standpoint, but I think from a project management standpoint, we missed on a few marks,” Phillips said.
The cost of the project – including acquisition of the land — soared to nearly $20 million, money the city doesn’t have, she said.
“Basically what happened is we told the public money is no object through the design process,” Bartley said.
The project has since been scaled back significantly to something closer to what the city can afford. Much of the project cost is being funded through grants.
But all those changes came at a price. The largest additional costs were for the architectural and engineering drawings for structures that were never envisioned when the original agreement was struck with the Mill Valley firm, Royston Hanamoto Alley & Abbey.
Other unanticipated costs include wetland and endangered species permits, a traffic study, environmental assessment of the old farmhouse, and payments to LandPaths for community outreach.
The City Council asked Phillips to return Tuesday with additional documentation showing how the costs got, as Bartley put it, “way out of hand.”
Bartley said he suspects what happened is the project suffered from “scope creep.” He predicted the council will ultimately approve higher costs because it wants to see the park constructed. But he said he needs the documentation to better understand what went wrong.
“There’s just a lot of stuff I need to see before I can say ‘OK we made a mistake and I’m ready to move forward,’” he said.
Councilwoman Robin Swinth said she was troubled by the steady stream of problems facing the Recreation and Parks Department.
“We see issue after issue come up that shows that we need either more oversight or we need a plan,” Swinth said.
Within the past year, the department’s top two officials retired after it was revealed they had accepted thousands of dollars of free golf from the operator of the Bennett Valley Golf Course. The course itself also was shown to be bleeding money.
It was also revealed that two homes on a future park site were leased out for $100 and $200 per month each, one to a city employee. And the irrigation budget was found to be short by $200,000, which didn’t do the grass in parks any favors over the dry summer.
City Manager Kathy Millison explained that Phillips, who served for several months as the interim department head, has been the point person on the “large volume of corrective actions” the department has needed.
But she noted a new director is on board and a long-range strategy for tackling the issues facing the department is in the works.
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @citybeater