Council opens bids for new rec center
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on April 14, 2010 1:46 PM
Architectural firm Pearce, Brinkley, Cease and Lee, P.A., principal Irvin Pearce reads one of 15 bids that came in for construction of a new recreation center downtown.
Construction of a new recreation center in downtown Goldsboro is one significant step closer to becoming a reality, as elected officials and key members of the city staff attended a bid-opening for the project Tuesday at City Hall.
And what they heard was that the price tag for a new facility they say would have cost nearly $14 million to construct a few years ago is drastically lower than once estimated, thanks, in part, to the same economic climate that prompted the board to put the project on hold back in January.
The "apparent low bid," turned in by local firm D.S. Simmons Inc., did not even surpass $9 million.
But Irvin Pearce, principal for architectural firm Pearce, Brinkley, Cease and Lee, P.A., said the $8.76 million base bid submitted by the company could increase by as much as $500,000, depending on which alternates -- installation of bleachers, a climbing wall and a rainwater reclamation system are among them -- the city chooses to include in the final plans.
And once they do -- and the bids are certified by Pearce and his associates -- a vote on whether or not to move forward with construction by D.S. Simmons is the next step.
City Manager Joe Huffman said he expects the bids to be certified by the end of the week.
Then, during its pre-meeting work session Monday, the council will be given an opportunity to decide which alternates to include -- at that point, a final cost would then be calculated.
"So it's possible," Huffman said, that a final vote on whether or not to construct the facility will come during the subsequent 7 p.m. meeting.
The city has been eyeing construction of a new recreation center since the previous facility -- opened in 1925 and located on Walnut Street -- was destroyed by fire in 2004.
In June 2005, a committee was formed to research a possible reconstruction, and since, the group has produced a design, location -- the 200 block of Center Street -- and most of the additional details to make it happen.
But the project was put on hold in January 2009 because of a shaky economy -- the same climate Irvin now says has saved as much as $5 million on construction.
As the plans currently show it, the recreation center would be a YMCA-like facility, complete with climbing wall, concession area, day care room, restrooms, a pool, classrooms, gymnasium and indoor track. A fitness center, weight room and gaming room also are included in the plan.
The majority of the council has remained satisfied with the renderings produced by the architectural firm -- Michael Headen has voiced opposition to the look, saying in December 2009 that he did not believe the building "fit" into his vision of downtown.
"Is this the best design we can get? ... This stuff looks like the same old crap. It looks like the same thing, rolled over again. ... We paid them an asinine amount of money for those designs," the councilman said then.
The Rev. Charles Williams also has voiced concerns, questioning how the center would be run -- and whether the building would truly serve the entire population if the city moved forward with membership-based access only.
"It's a public facility. Everybody's going to get to use it," Huffman said during a meeting in February when Williams raised those issues. "But we want everyone to be a member."
"I know it will benefit those who are underprivileged," Williams replied. "I'm still holding onto that."
At that same meeting, the council also discussed the projected operating costs for the building -- $750,000 to $1 million a year -- and whether the city could bear the burden.
"It will never pay for itself," Mayor Pro Tem Chuck Allen said then, likening the facility to the Paramount Theatre.
"It's like another service," Huffman added. "Parks don't make money."
But those concerns are not the only ones that exist.
In fact, some members of the community are simply not satisfied with the plans.
A petition signed by nearly 100 local residents was received by the city management team in early February, a document that claims the proposed facility "is not environmentally compatible with existing buildings" downtown.
"We understand that building the center would be less expensive now, but much are opposed to being forced to accept a building design which will have a negative, rather than positive, impact on the overall downtown plan," the petition reads. "If a client is not pleased with the facade, they should not be coerced into paying additional money to receive an acceptable design."
Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. executive director Julie Thompson said then she sympathizes with those who signed the document, but argued that completion of the project is more important to the downtown master plan than the building's facade.
"I still hope there could be some compromises (made regarding the design)," she said. "But I also truly believe that if we don't get it out for bid, I think we'll just be putting the project in jeopardy.
"What (a recreation center) would bring as far as the energy and the traffic ... it's a big selling point," she said. "So you won't see any of our board members' names on that petition because the facility is extremely important to the overall plan. It's a vital component of our vision."
Whether or not a vote will be had Monday remains unclear.
Huffman suggested at the bid-opening that he would not be surprised if the council members want a few more weeks to mull it over.
But one thing is now clear: Downtown's new recreation center, if approved for construction, would represent the latest multimillion-dollar investment made in the city's core.
To the tune of roughly $9 million.