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Aquatics park cost raises alarm

Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneConstruction is underway Tuesdayat the Rogue Credit Union Community Complex at Howard Memorial Community Park in west Medford.

Warning signs of cost escalation for the new Medford aquatics park are flashing as Medford City Council pushes ahead with the purchase of 400 tons of steel to erect the events center.

The council approved a $6,039,527 award to Pence Construction and Medford-based JB Steel to purchase the steel for delivery and installation next summer for the Rogue Credit Union Community Complex at Howard Memorial Community Park in west Medford.

This is the third early work order, totaling more than $8 million, for the sports center, which includes two pools, and comes as the city hasn’t nailed down a guaranteed maximum price for the project.

The project already has seen an increased budget of $65.5 million, pumped up by $3.5 million recently from money the city received from the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

The steel order for the 76,000-square-foot events center was made at this point to lock in a price because of ongoing volatility in the market and to make sure the project gets done by August 2023.

Concerns about cost escalation gave one councilor pause, and points to ongoing concerns about what the actual cost of building the aquatics center might be and how to pay for it.

“I think it just kind of comes down to instinctively whether or not we’re comfortable with how we’re going to end up financing this,” Councilor Michael Zarosinski said.

He said he would have preferred to look at scaling back the scope of the project, which has faced issues arising from the pandemic, including supply constraints as well as escalating costs for goods and services.

“I’ve come to a point where I will pass on this vote,” Zarosinski said before voting against the steel order.

Council Sarah Spansail recused herself from voting on the steel order, citing a conflict of interest. The order passed with four “yes” votes.

Rich Rosenthal, Medford parks director, said any comments made about the ultimate cost of the project would be “speculative.”

He did say the council authorized an additional $3.5 million recently that could help offset any potential increases.

So far, for the three early work orders, the bids have matched estimates, and actually came in less for the site preparation.

In anticipation of potential cost increases, Rosenthal said the project has been scaled back somewhat to help bring costs down.

The square footage of all the buildings has been reduced by 20,000 square feet to a total of 140,000 square feet, mainly by narrowing the space between the events center and pool areas.

Also, there has been a reduction in the amount of deck space around the pools.

For the events center, the original idea was to create a span with no columns in the center. However, there was a cost savings to installing columns to support the structure.

Rosenthal said the columns shouldn’t affect the sports or activities in the building.

Another cost-saving change was in the type of piers used to support the building.

Rosenthal said the changes don’t diminish the overall goal of the facility, which is to have two indoor pools and an events center with eight full-sized basketball courts.

The council in September authorized other portions of the project, including $2,072,334 for work to prepare the site.

Another $453,743 was authorized in September for ground stabilization work.

Pence is the so-called construction manager, general contractor for the project.

This type of arrangement, known as CM/GC in the trade, is common throughout the U.S., but the city had a similar arrangement for the new police and fire stations in 2015 when budget alarms went off.

At the time, Medford City Council was caught off guard by a $6 million cost overrun and had to trim some aspects of the project to keep it within budget.

The work on the the foundation and installing the structural steel for the police station had begun before the “guaranteed maximum price” was set.

Typically the guaranteed maximum price comes at the end of the design phase, just before construction starts.

Councilor Kevin Stine said he couldn’t predict how the budget will look for the project.

“Until we get to the point we have a guaranteed maximum price, it’s not official,” he said.

Stine said he remains confident in the process to complete the project.

“We’re going to get it done,” he said.

City officials want to build new pools to replace the 1960s-era Jackson Pool and the former Hawthorne Park pool, which was closed in 2010 and then demolished. Parks maintenance workers continue to keep Jackson Pool operational despite its age.

The bond to pay for the complex would be paid off through a variety of revenue sources.

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com.