Sebastian County officials discuss aquatics park work

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 65 views 

The Sebastian County Quorum Court picked up right where the Fort Smith Board of Directors left off tonight (May 14), discussing the next steps in the Ben Geren Aquatics Center design and construction.

In a memo to the Court, County Judge David Hudson said he would recommend a construction manager at-risk approach for the project, just as Fort Smith City Administrator Ray Gosack suggested to the Fort Smith Board early today.

According to Hudson, using a construction manager would give both governments a better idea of total funding for the project early in the project design phase since he or she would be involved in the design from early in the project through completion of construction, instead of waiting for bids to come in to find out the total actual cost.

"The construction manager at-risk approach provides cost information earlier in the design development process for the project, and accordingly, will allow more focused review on the total project cost in a more cost effective manner than the general contractor method," he said.

At issue for both bodies is whether to design an aquatics center for $8.8 million or $8 million. The Board has approved an amended interlocal agreement, which would pump the extra $800,000 into the project with the county fronting the funds and the city repaying the county its half over a period of four years.

Sebastian County has never approved additional funding and has continued to let the amended interlocal agreement be tabled after it was brought back for a vote in March. It was originally brought before the Court in February but was voted down at the time.

By using the construction manager, Hudson said the governments would know the cost fairly early in the design process and would be able to adjust accordingly, either asking for the additional funds or asking for features to be removed to make the project more cost-effective.

Gosack told the Board earlier that using a design-bid-build approach, which is traditional, the project's architects would essentially have to design the project twice – once for $8 million and another design for $8.8 million and then take bids to see where the low bids come in. He said such a plan was not in the city or county's interest since it would take money away from the construction of the facility.

Justice of the Peace John Spradlin, a home contractor by trade, made clear his bias toward the construction manager approach, stating that such a system would have the manager sub-contracting each section and possibly getting a better deal overall.

"One thing that that catches my attention is where the builder is involved in the design of it and works with the architect on the conception," he said. "Builders look at it from a different perspective than say, you and I or the architect."

Spradlin agreed that the construction manager at-risk approach could potentially give the two governments more "bang for the buck."

Hudson agreed with Spradlin's points.

"I think that's a key aspect that's been pointed out time after time," he added.

But not all members of the Court were convinced.

Justice of the Peace Danny Aldridge was the only member to vote no when asked to place a resolution on next week's agenda to approve the construction manager at-risk approach.

After the meeting, Aldridge explained that the "good old boy system" was likely to come into play with a construction manager.

"In doing my diligence, talking to former county judges, state representatives, some general contractors, they were all worried about the behind the scene deals that could transpire under the construction manager," he said.

By not taking open bids, Aldridge feels that there are too many opportunities for a construction manager to award sub-contracts to cronies or him- or herself.

"I think there's too many loopholes for misuse of public funds to happen. One of the contractors that warned me about construction managers is probably the kind to find those loopholes," he said, though he declined to share the name of the contractor.

Aldridge said being open with taxpayers was important in this project.

"I just think the taxpayers are entitled to as much transparency in this as they can possibly get. For example, the construction manager, when he's going out for bids on the sidewalk construction, he may want to bid it through his regular company. But if it's not sealed bids, opened in public and going with the lowest bidder, it could come back where he could be awarding all these jobs to himself, so he's getting paid to oversee it as well as getting the job done and I'm just not in favor of any vail over this project. I want to make sure the public gets all of the project they can get for their money."

Aldridge said he would fight to get sealed bids included in the design and building process should both bodies vote to appoint a construction manager for the project. He said should either body fail to vote for a project manager, the design-bid-build approach would automatically go into affect.

The Quorum Court and the Board of Directors will vote on resolutions to appoint a construction manager at their meetings next Tuesday night (May 21).