Concerned about inaccurate estimates for several recent projects, members of the Wellington Village Council chastised senior staff members Tuesday.
After the final bid for a public restroom and storage facility at Wellington Green Park came back more than double the original budget, council members expressed concern about what they deemed a persistent issue.
“This has been a recurring issue, and I’m not trying to be critical,” Councilman Howard Coates said. “When we make decisions to move forward on projects, we take the estimates that have been given to us as the basis [for that decision].”
The council was asked to approve a $208,000 contract to add public restrooms and storage to the 10-acre park located on Stribling Way behind the Hampton Inn & Suites hotel. But council members pulled it off the consent agenda, noting that they had budgeted only $100,000 for park upgrades when the issue was raised two years ago.
“When something comes in at 100 percent more than what we estimate the budget for this to be, how can we be that far off?” Coates asked.
Director of Operations Jim Barnes said that the scope of the project had changed, asking for three restrooms on each side instead of one. He also said construction costs had risen since the project was originally presented.
But Coates said inflation couldn’t be to blame. “That doesn’t jive with what I hear in the financial world,” he said. “You can’t convince me that a 100 percent increase is caused by inflation.”
Councilwoman Anne Gerwig said deflation is more to blame. “From my personal experience, there are less people offering these services,” she said. “The costs have gone up because there are not as many companies competing.”
Coates then asked how cost estimates are vetted before going to the council. “I’m starting to have a growing lack of confidence in the estimates given to us,” he said. “I’m seeing time and time again examples of where they are just radically off.”
If council members had an accurate cost, he said, “our decisions might be different.”
Barnes said the estimates are determined by using construction databases.
This is not the only project where the cost has been much higher than anticipated, Coates said. The costs of moving the Wellington Tennis Center and rebuilding the Wellington Community Center also came in over budget.
“It’s happening enough that I think we need to look internally,” he said. “Staff has to ask itself if they’re giving us the best information so we can make decisions.”
Village Engineer Bill Riebe said the change in scope was largely to blame for the rise in cost for this project.
“The additional cost came from where we have to [locate] the bathrooms and the utility work we have to do,” he said. “When we first contemplated this, the use of the park was much less. It has grown. It’s being used more.”
The park was largely a passive park two years ago, meaning it was open space available to residents. Since then, Wellington has begun using the site for several programs, Barnes said.
Vice Mayor John Greene asked whether Wellington is in need of more park space. “Is parks and rec asking that this be used for overflow or something?” he asked
Barnes said that although there are no plans to make it a permanent park, some of the village’s sports providers have been using it for organized play.
Councilman Matt Willhite said that is an issue, since the space was meant for families who want to play ball in an open field.
“We’re kicking the dad and his kids off the fields, saying that this is for organized play,” he said. “There’s nowhere in Wellington you can just go play without being part of an organization.”
Coates said he isn’t comfortable paying for a new facility when the 10-acre site does not have a defined purpose. “We don’t know what that 10 acres will be used for ultimately,” he said. “We haven’t had our visioning session.”
He made a motion to table the item until after the council has conducted that session.
“That is supposed to be in early May,” Coates said. “If we’re going to make a motion on this property, I’d like to have consensus among us for what we’re going to use that property for.”
Greene seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.