Plans for the new River West Trail near downtown Fort Smith have been scaled back after bids for the project, jointly funded through a grant from the Walton Family Foundation and the city of Fort Smith, came in more than $500,000 over budget.
According to Fort Smith Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman, the project was originally projected to cost $1.9 million for the two-mile trail along the banks of the Arkansas River, but as he told the Central Business Improvement District commissioners Tuesday (Nov. 18) during the CBID's regular monthly meeting, the lowest bid of two submitted for the project came in at nearly $2.4 million.
In order to have the project fit the specified budget, Dingman said the city has reworked the scope of the project which initially would have the trail opening with less amenities than originally envisioned.
"Some of the revisions for the project were a reduction in the event nodes," Dingman said. "I think the project now includes the trailhead near the river events building and then there are two nodes along the trail there that are still part of the project."
Plans originally called for nine "nodes," or stations, along the River West Trail, but Dingman said the plans call for seven of those nodes to be "deferred until later on."
He said the trail plans will still feature an events location at the end of the trail as it approaches north Fort Smith, though funding and construction for the area will be delayed indefinitely.
"At the end of the trail, there will still be the trailhead at the north end won't be built yet," he said. "There will be a parking area, as such. But not the pavilion or structure we originally planned."
A bridge slated to be included along the trail has also been redesigned, Dingman said.
The city's half of the project funding, he noted, comes from the Parks and Recreation Department's share of the one cent sales tax set aside to fund capital improvement projects within the city.
The new bid date for the project is Dec. 4, with CBID Chairman Richard Griffin noting that six packets for the bid had already been picked up by potential bidders, though he said it does not necessarily mean the packets will turn into bids on the project. Once the bids are accepted and a contract is signed between the city and the winning bidder, Dingman said construction could be completed in as little as six months based on the old design featuring all amenities. Under the new scaled down plans, he said a timeline has not yet been determined though he expects a similar timeframe would be followed.
Dingman also updated CBID commissioners on the planned Compass Park splash pad that has been over budget for some months. The budget for the project, $200,000 to be split between the parks department and the CBID, has been a struggle for the city with the original cost projections for the project coming in at a cost of $258,000.
But Dingman said a meeting was taking place Tuesday afternoon between Burton Pool and Spa, engineer Bobby Aldridge and the city to discuss scaled back plans so the project can proceed with construction slated to begin as soon as a contract can be signed.
Among the changes Dingman presented to the commission was removing LED lighting that changed color and replacing the lighting structures with conventional lights. He said the LED structures could always be added at a later time. The location for the splash pad would also not include perimeter lighting in order to save money.
The splash pad, originally slated for opening last year, now appears as though it may not open until the spring or early summer of 2015 depending on how long construction takes if a contract is awarded to Burton to begin construction. But CBID Commissioner Phil White said if progress is not made soon to get construction started, he was ready to throw in the towel.
"My concern is that the ball doesn't keep getting kicked around," he said. "It was supposed to be opened last year for the kids and if it comes again to midways through the summer, I'm ready to walk away from it if it's not open. Because this is ridiculous."
Griffin said he had every reason to believe that the contract would be signed by the first of the year, adding that he would attend Tuesday's meeting with the engineer and installation company.