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Plan for working with higher-than-expected Hart Park playground costs in works

July 25, 2011

Bids for the Hart Park playground project came in higher than anticipated, but city staff members believe part of the project can move forward this year by shifting around some capital improvement dollars and borrowing some money.

The Parks and Forestry Board held a meeting Friday to review the bids that had come in the prior day.

"The bids came in substantially over the latest estimates," said Bill Porter, city public works director.

City staff expected the project to cost $1.2 million, plus a 15 percent contingency, for a total cost of $1.4 million. However, the low bid for the entire project came in at more than $1.6 million.

Porter said he could only guess that asking for bids during the busy summer/fall construction season and an uptick in the economy led to the higher project costs.

The board was faced with three options: increase this year's bond issue by the entire amount, reject all bids and rebid the project in 2012, or move forward with the playground, site grading and utilities to prep for future construction of the picnic shelter, lighting and landscaping.

City staff members recommended going for the third option and getting a start on the playground - and the board agreed.

"It's a key component of the vision of the park," Porter said.

The issue goes before the Budget and Finance Committee on Tuesday, and still has to go to the Board of Public Works and Common Council next week for approvals.

Selzer-Ornst Co. provided the low bid of $921,000, leaving more than $666,000 in the project budget after paying architect fees, Porter said. Staff recommended the following methods to make up the funding gap:

Use $100,000 earmarked for street lighting on Bluemound Road, which the state has now agreed to pay for as part of the road improvement project.

Use $115,000 allocated for road improvements on Capitol Drive, a shared project with Milwaukee that is progressing more slowly than anticipated, meaning no money will be needed for it this year.

Increase the 2011 bond issue by $40,000.

By putting in the utilities this fall, the ground would not have to be dug up again to build the picnic shelter. The board asked that the shelter and other finishing touches be put into the 2012 Capital Improvements Program.

"The community has been looking forward to a playground at the park for a long time," board Chairman Tom Ertel said. "I think it's in the best interest of the park and the commission that we get the playground going."

Playground equipment removed from Hart Park during the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District's flood-mitigation project was moved to Eisenhower Elementary School a few years ago. The new park playground calls for an area for kids ages 2 to 5, equipment suitable for ages 5 to 12 and a splash pad.

Commissioner Steve Berg worried that deferring the lighting installation could cause safety and security risks. The city needs to protect its investment from vandalism as well as protect the people who are using the equipment, he said.

"We're putting it out there in the middle of the park," Berg said. "It's a very dark area."

If approved, the project should be completed by the end of the year, Porter said.

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