The city of Daphne’s gleaming new sports complex, which has been hosting baseball and softball games on 10 fields since its soft opening earlier this year, is nearly complete but at a cost of more than $6 million more than originally projected, according to city officials. But some members of the City Council and Mayor Dane Haygood are at odds over who is to blame.
Plans for the park stretch back as far as 2006, when the city purchased more than 100 undeveloped acres off Park Drive for future park growth. However, funding for significant improvements was not available until 2014, when the council voted to increase the city’s lodging tax from 4 to 6 percent to fund a master plan for parks and use the proceeds as leverage for obtaining a $12 million loan in 2017.
At the time, the city also sent out a request for proposals for engineering firms to bid on improvements not just to the Park Drive property, but also existing facilities at Trione Park and Lott Park. The contract was awarded to Volkert Inc. of Mobile, which submitted plans for the Daphne Sports Complex depicting 10 lighted ball fields on the property along with batting cages, a maintenance facility, accessible playground, picnic pavilions and nature trails.
The spending started with an ordinance passed in 2017 to award $5.6 million to H.O. Weaver & Sons for site work, which included a $425,000 allocation to two engineering firms, Volkert and HMR (now Goodwyn Mills Cawood) for project management, on-call construction engineering, design amendments and geotechnical services. Separately, Haygood said HMR subcontracted a Georgia engineering firm, Lose Design, to draw up other architectural elements.
Haygood said that phase of construction was more expensive than anticipated due to the “monumental” amount of site work necessary because of the property’s topography. Once it was complete, the city advertised requests for bids for the vertical construction.
But only one firm responded to the initial request, Haygood said, adding the bidder, Dyas Construction, proposed to do the work for about $2.5 million more than the city anticipated. So the proposal was rejected and the project was divided into two phases — the fields and the buildings — then was re-bid.
Eventually, it was awarded to Cunningham DeLaney Construction LLC for a total price of $6.7 million, but the city also approved slightly more than $2 million in additional expenses for upgrades including shade structures, sod rather than seed grass and decorative paving. City Council President Pat Rudicell said those upgrades were “personal preferences” at the discretion of the mayor, which along with items that were left out of the original design specifications, drove the price up to $6 million over budget.
“What started happening was things we thought were in the original bid were not,” Rudicell said. “Some of it was based on things we didn’t plan for but needed to be done.
“The other thing is upgrades. There were a lot of upgrades. And the term used by the engineering firm was ‘personal preference.’ Well, [the council] never had personal preference. It was the mayor’s personal preference.”
Meanwhile, basic ball field amenities, such as lighting, were left out. Rudicell said the city had to dip into the general fund for another $690,000 to cover additional costs for a maintenance building, separate colors for the concrete, batting cages and a natural gas line for the concession stands (see note at end of story). The $1.6-million lighting expenditure was eventually approved as a lease-purchase agreement, with the city putting 50 percent down and financing the balance.
But the work remains incomplete. This week, crews were on-site removing and replacing fencing around the dugouts to cover a 2-foot gap at the top, where foul balls could enter and possibly injure players or coaches. The bleachers that were initially purchased were too small — with just three rows and no safety railing — and are currently being upgraded to four rows with handrails. Landscaping is ongoing and the proposed accessible playground was never built. Rudicell said the city is currently seeking a grant for it.
Meanwhile, Haygood said the council approved all of the expenditures and the real story is the $2.5 million the city saved by rejecting the initial bid.
“There’s only so much time we can put into these budgets and without having the full engineering done, you don’t know what you’ll run into,” he said last week. “Certainly we’re over [budget], but it ultimately comes to council decisions on big ticket items. They have to approve each one.”
Haygood said there were more cost-effective proposals, including building the fields at the existing Trione Park, but the council elected to build them on Park Drive. He also said it was an “odd relationship” with the three engineering firms.
“Typically you’ll have a civil contractor bid on the fields because the majority of the work is grading and landscaping and hardscaping,” he explained. “Then to accomplish the buildings, they would sub [contract] that out to someone who specializes in building. Or the other way around.
“There are two lines of thought on which would give the city better value: bidding them out together, but then you still have two contractors subbing it out and getting profit on top of profit. Or would we get a better value if we bid them out separately and allow two different contractors to compete on it? Those things could go parallel but it would cause a little heartburn with coordination and you run the risk of finger-pointing if things are in the wrong place.”
Haygood admitted the process has been “pretty frustrating,” but he believes the result is a centerpiece of the city’s recreation upgrades.
“The city is not really set up for construction management,” he said. “Typically we leave that up to engineers who represent us. We also had a transition at the time where our public works director left … so that added to the confusion. But the original confusion came from the master plan with Volkert, and Volkert wanted to talk to HMR, and HMR wanted to talk to Lose, and it created this terrible chain of interfacing that it made it extremely difficult to get things done.”
Rudicell said last week the City Council met in a work session to create a list of eight projects that were included in the master plan but for some reason or another never included in the park improvement contracts. They include the playground, walking trails at the Daphne Sports Complex, a splash pad at one of the city’s parks and a recreation building at Lott Park.
“We’re out of money from the lodging tax and we can’t afford to give any more general fund money, but I hope once we prioritize these eight, we can add one or two to the budget each year until the master plan is finally complete,” he said.
*The city of Daphne approved a total of $693,501 in additions in September 2018, less cost savings of approximately $50,000. Line item additions were:
• $125,000 for a maintenance building
• $104,000 for hardscape and colored enhanced concrete
• $100,000 for batting cages
• $150,000 for a pond liner
• $204,501 for sod
• $10,000 for a natural gas line
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