The Indian Trail Improvement District Board of Supervisors last week postponed hiring a mediator to get the stalled Acreage Community Park project moving again, granting Supervisor Betty Argue’s request to give her a month to resolve issues that have slowed progress.
Argue recently took on the task of getting contractors, architects, engineers, district staff and Palm Beach County on the same page to make progress on the project, which recently has faced permitting issues that have stalled work because of changes to the plan that added amenities.
ITID has been working on the 45-acre park expansion for nearly 20 years, according to a memo from District Manager John Wodraska. The most recent contract was signed at the end of 2015. The primary contractor is Rosso Development of Lake Worth, and the design and management engineer is Craig A. Smith & Associates. Palm Beach County owns the property, providing a lease to ITID, and is the permitting agency.
The project has been beset with delays, change orders and regulatory problems, according to Wodraska’s memo.
While the original planned completion date has arrived, because of significant change orders, the project is not done, and the contractor is asking for an eight-month extension. The engineer has been paid the entire original “not to exceed” fee, but much work asked remains to complete the revised project.
At the ITID board meeting on Aug. 23, district staff recommended utilizing a mediator at a cost of no more than $5,000 to meet with all the parties involved to quickly resolve outstanding issues.
Grant funding is at risk, according to the staff report. ITID has already lost a $200,000 grant because of delays, and risks losing another $600,000 if the project proceeds past June 2018.
Without a mediator, the project faces increased costs, litigation and possibly being scrapped before it’s complete.
“We’re looking to pursue mediation, and the value I see in this is in the October timeframe, we would have a plan, hopefully, that the contractor, Craig A. Smith, Indian Trail and Palm Beach County would agree to, and we go forward and get this thing done,” Wodraska said.
ITID President Jennifer Hager asked engineer Gene Schriner of Craig A. Smith why the contract had gotten to this point.
“How in the world did this ever get to the point of needing a mediator?” Hager asked. “Why are we even talking about this after all this time?”
Schriner said the main reason was the change orders to put in an amphitheater rather than rebuild the parking lot, as well as some others.
“We knew at that time we were going to have to go back through the site plan process,” he said. “You make a change to a site plan, it takes time. On the bright side, you’re getting something more than you want. We were spending money on that parking lot, and now we’re… going to build an amphitheater and a concession stand and other things.”
Hager hoped that the situation can be resolved without a mediator.
“Why can’t we take care of this?” she asked. “Why do you feel we need a mediator besides the litigation piece? Is this something we can just solve, or is it because Palm Beach County is involved?”
Wodraska said a mediator would bring together all parties involved.
“What we don’t have right now is a definitive plan to say, ‘Here is what we’re going to do and here is a time frame,’” he said. “A mediator has the unique skill set and will be able to sit down with the four parties that we mentioned and say, ‘Here is the plan that we’re going to go forward with.’ We are still modifying this as we go forward.”
Argue disagreed, saying that the board had approved a contract, and in December 2016 had approved changes to the contract.
“It was our understanding at that point that we had permits in place, and this was just a minor phasing issue,” she said. “We still don’t have permits because we have to go through the county process, which we’re near the end, so I don’t see that bringing a mediator in is going to change that in October when we’re near the end of it.”
Argue added that things have not happened in a timely fashion, and the contractor has used the excuse that they don’t have permits.
“I’ve been frustrated with this whole thing, but I actually see a light at the end of the tunnel right now,” she said. “I actually think that we’re getting to the point where there are no more excuses.”
Argue said in terms of meeting grant deadlines, the project must keep moving forward.
“When you start throwing around litigation, that to me is a red flag and you shouldn’t be discussing this at a public meeting,” she said.
Supervisor Carol Jacobs favored having a mediator involved to avoid possible litigation.
“Right now, there is so much miscommunication between all parties,” Jacobs said. “Get the group together, the county, they’re having a problem with the permits, the engineer, Rosso, the grant writer… bring them all together. [The mediator] is not a judge, he’s not a jury. He sits and listens to the parties to hash it out. Then you get your letter with everybody agreeing on something.”
She added that Argue has been doing a good job trying to coordinate the project, but there are too many parties involved, and a mediator would help bring them all together.
“You sign it and you’ve got that ‘save your butt’ letter just in case there is a lawsuit, and it’s worth the money,” Jacobs said.
Supervisor Gary Dunkley said he agreed that a mediator is needed.
“We’ve already spent $3 million,” Dunkley said. “I don’t want to go further if we don’t have an end plan. Right now, I don’t see an end plan. I didn’t want this project in the first place, but now that we have it, let’s put the right people in place and put it to a conclusion.”
Wodraska said a mediator, if approved that evening, could come back with a recommendation in October. The cost would be $100 an hour with a maximum of $5,000.
Hager said because of the work Argue has put in trying to bring the parties together, she would favor putting off hiring a mediator.
Argue pointed out that she had asked for a month to finalize some issues to bring back to the board.
Supervisor Ralph Bair said he would be willing to hire a mediator if that was what is needed to get the job done.
“I want to get this thing finished,” Bair said. I’m tired of messing around. I’m tired of hearing excuses. This went from a four-park baseball field initially to what it is now. Maybe we can get all the permits we need and get it finished. That’s all I care about.”
Jacobs said she’s confident that Wodraska, who recently took over as district manager, is capable of finding the right people to get things done.
“He has 40 years’ experience,” she said. “You’ve got to get everybody in one room to get it done.”
Wodraska said he thought bringing demands on the county would be the key to how fast the project would progress, and having a mediator would help bring it to closure.
Argue reiterated that at a workshop on the park expansion, she had asked the board to give her until September to resolve the issues.
“We’ll know in the next couple of weeks, I think, but if we get to the next meeting and we have not resolved these outstanding issues, we don’t have the final permit, then I would recommend that we bring the mediator in and sit down with everybody,” she said. “I really think we’re at the precipice of, once you have all the permits, you have absolutely no excuse. The big unknown that’s out there is the permits.”
The board agreed to hold off hiring a mediator until its September meeting.