Archive for Monday, February 22, 1999

COSTLY WISDOM

February 22, 1999

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Whatever plans consultants come up with for local recreation facilities, city officials want them to be accompanied by cost estimates that are more realistic than those in the last plan.

Experience apparently has been a stern teacher for Lawrence city officials when it comes to parks and recreation planning.

City commissioners are scheduled on Tuesday to consider sending out requests for proposals for consultants to update the city's parks and recreation master plan. But City Manager Mike Wildgen already has said that one firm need not apply.

That is Paulette & Associates, which did the last master plan in 1994. That report listed projects with an estimated total cost of $12 million that could be funded from the city's share of a new 1-cent countywide sales tax. The great flaw in the Paulette plan, however, was its estimated cost figures, which were far below the actual price to construct the proposed facilities.

The result was that local parks and recreation officials were forced to backpedal on several projects, most notably a community center at Centennial Park. The center, which was considered the centerpiece of the plan, was estimated to cost $5.7 million, but final plans carried a price tag of $13.3 million. Granted, city recreation officials may have inflated the plans by adding facilities not envisioned in the consultant's figures, but the disparity in cost estimates severely damaged support for the plan.

Although city commissioners tried to sell the Centennial Park project as a deluxe facility that would fill a wide variety of needs, it still was difficult for the public to accept a $13.3 million price tag on a project they initially had been told would cost $5.7 million. That, along with concerns for maintaining greenspace at the park, eventually spelled defeat for the project.

So, as city officials accept and evaluate proposals for a new consultant, they would be well-advised to pay special attention to the firm's track record on cost estimates. It could save them a lot of money -- and wasted effort -- down the road.

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