Despite voter approval, aquatic facility's construction not set in stone
Building an aquatic facility in Mitchell may not be a forgone conclusion. During a special City Council meeting to discuss 2017 budget planning and hear a revenue overview for the city, Councilman Mel Olson made a comment that may surprise 1,440 ...
Building an aquatic facility in Mitchell may not be a forgone conclusion.
During a special City Council meeting to discuss 2017 budget planning and hear a revenue overview for the city, Councilman Mel Olson made a comment that may surprise 1,440 Mitchell voters who supported the $8 million aquatic facility.
"To say we're obviously moving forward with the pool, I don't think is a true statement," Olson said.
Olson made the comment after City Administrator Stephanie Ellwein told the council that bids for the facility will not likely be ready until the fall, with construction estimated to begin in late fall or early 2017.
Regarding the publicly approved $8.085 million facility, Olson asked what would happen if those bids returned to the city at $12 million. He said moving forward with the project if bids are below the approved $8.085 million figure, the project would be a "no-brainer," but he wondered if the city would remain obligated to construct the facility if returned bids are substantially higher than the approved figure.
There was no definitive answer given during the special council meeting on Monday night in City Hall, but Ellwein told Olson and the six other council members in attendance the new city attorney, Justin Johnson, would likely be tasked to determine whether the city would need to move forward with the project if bids surpass the approved facility cost.
The plan to build a 75-foot by 82-foot competitive lap pool and a 1,200-square-foot leisure pool was approved by Mitchell voters in a 54-46 percent margin in December. The project, which would be funded in part by a $1 million pledge from the Mitchell Aquatic Club and a 50-cent tax increase on Mitchell hotel rates, was approved by voters after the city Parks and Recreation Department estimated operations costs would rise to $86,620.
Two months later, Mayor Jerry Toomey told The Daily Republic that architects said operations costs could reach as high as $400,000 annually. With costs potentially rising three to five times higher than previous estimates, Councilwoman Bev Robinson she wants to discuss annual operations costs before moving forward with the project.
While Olson started the conversation, he also said any bids received below $8.085 million would likely cement the aquatic facility's future in Mitchell.
"Based on my legislative experience, if the bids come in at $8 million, you're obligated to build the pool," said Olson, a former state legislator. "It could cost you $12 million to operate, but if people said we wanted to build an $8 million pool, you'd have to."
Near the end of the brief discussion on the aquatic facility, Councilwoman Susan Tjarks said the council should be "leery" about the operations estimates recently provided to the city.
"I think we need to be sure that we're not assuming that those numbers were what we are going to experience in our operational costs," Tjarks said.
City saves nearly $1M on 2016 projects
The council also got some good news on Monday.
Of the five council-approved projects already bid in 2016, Ellwein said total expenditures came in about $983,000 less than the amount approved in the 2016 budget. Other than three items that went over budget, the main causes are a $680,000 reduction in the Fifth Avenue street design project and a $360,000 drop in water tower repairs costs.
With the reduced costs, the city may have extra funds available in case the Sixth Avenue plaza comes in over budget. About $426,000 was budgeted for the plaza and green space planned to be installed south of the Corn Palace.
Due to the savings from other projects in 2016, Ellwein suggested a Sixth Avenue plaza bid of $560,000, for example, would still be doable in the 2016 budget.
Aside from the Sixth Avenue plaza, the council still has to bid for new backstops at Cadwell Park, tennis courts at Hitchcock Park and a new fuel system upgrade.