Library Runs Amuck
While COVID-19 Still Looms
by Anne Mooney / May 1, 2020
Cautious Re-opening Plans
At its April 27 meeting, the Commission led off discussion with a tentative plan to lift restrictions on public facilities. Effective May 1, the golf course opens with social distancing and other restrictions. For complete information, go to cityofwinterpark.org/golf
Some retail shops and restaurants will also open on a limited basis. The Tennis Center, Boat Ramps, Dog Park and Farmer’s Market remain closed for the time being. Sadly, hair salons did not make the cut, either.
Plea for Patience and Protecting Medical Workers
Commissioner Carolyn Cooper pointed out that we are nowhere near having a full understanding of the novel coronavirus, citing reports in the Washington Post and elsewhere describing young infected victims, who were asymptomatic but whose vital organs were being attacked by the virus and who had suffered blood clots and strokes, leaving some permanently disabled or deceased.
In a passionate plea for the safety of doctors and other medical personnel, Cooper urged citizens to have patience and to observe protective protocols. “Masks,” she said, “are less to protect the wearer than they are to protect others from infection by asymptomatic people who are carrying the virus but who don’t know they are. We need adequate testing,” she stated, “before it is safe for us to go back to our normal lives.
”Consider the health and safety of those we turn to for help when we are least able to help ourselves,” she urged.
Site Prep at Library-Events Center Runs Amuck
After several months of distraction – like city elections, coronavirus, chickens — the Library-Events Center project once again floated to the surface – but the discussion was about what lies beneath the surface. Demucking and soil remediation of the site is underway. Brasfield & Gorrie is doing the work.
Go Back a Year to the GMP
Last year, at a May 2019 Commission Meeting, the contractor, the architects, the engineering firm and the owner’s representative for the library-events center project presented a project budget that included the long-awaited Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP). In that budget, there was an allowance for soil remediation. During the meeting the estimated price, which was first at zero, climbed to $100,000, then to $150,000 and finally settled at $180,000. It was an ‘allowance’ instead of a line item cost, because at the time the contractor, Brasfield & Gorrie, and the geotechnical engineer, Ardaman, were not sure what they would find when they began to dig.
Commissioner Carolyn Cooper stated that she had consulted several architects not involved in the project who indicated the amount was insufficient. When Cooper brought this up at the May 2019 meeting, city staff present at the meeting dismissed her concerns as unfounded. “We’re dealing with professionals,” they said, “and they know what they’re doing.”
A Year Passes – Demucking Costs More than Double
At the April 27, 2020 virtual Commission meeting, City Manager Randy Knight reported that demucking costs have climbed to between $400,000 and $500,000. This could eat up close to half the City’s contingency fund, which Knight said was between $850,000 and $900,000 — a large hit this early in the construction process.
“Good News – Bad News”
In a communique with Commissioners and Senior Staff dated April 24, 2020, Knight wrote: “The good news/bad news. As you may recall, the commission chose to have the contractor do the demucking instead of city staff. The good news is the city can’t be blamed for delays in it taking three to four weeks longer than projected. The bad news is we are paying contractor costs instead of city costs for the labor and overhead. The allowance for this work . . . based on Ardaman’s projections of unsuitable soil was $180,000. We asked [Brasfield & Gorrie] to give us a best and worst case scenario for the remaining 5 sections . . . . In the worst case scenario this will hit the contingency for $318K. In the best case scenario it will be over by $227K.”
According to the memo, Brasfield & Gorrie had just completed week three of demucking and was projecting an additional five weeks to finish the job. They have found more unsuitable soil than Ardaman projected and have had to dig four to five feet deeper in some places. They will also have to demuck further to the west than originally projected.
Who Should Pay?
Acknowledging that the City will likely have to bear the burden of these costs, Commissioner Cooper urged Monday night that, in light of the assurances offered in the May 2019 meeting, “the City should have some opportunity for cost sharing – meaning, those representing the City’s interests should remind [Brasfield & Gorrie] of that.”
Rewind to 1958 – Muck Makes News
The Winter Park Sun reported in 1958 that the 21-acre site now known as MLK Park, recently acquired by the City by purchase and by condemnation, was in bad shape. “One-third is covered by muck which at some places goes 40 feet deep,” the Sun reported. “Heavy structures cannot be erected because of the swampy and soft condition of the land.” Then City Manager Clark Maxwell told the Sun, “The entire area has to be investigated and the ground tested before it is possible to determine how to develop it.”
The Sun went on the report, “Mr. Maxwell thinks that it would be a good idea to pump out the lake [Mendsen] and enlarge it considerably and use the residue to fill and elevate the surrounding land. It seems, however, probable that soil has to be brought in to a large part of the area to give it a firm surface. Under such a plan, the swampy Mendsen Lake would become a beautiful attraction and asset.”
Delays Are Nothing New
In a later article, the Sun reported the opening of the West New England recreation area – now MLK Park – had been delayed “because of the need to fill in much of the ground.” To supplement the soil residue they were using as landfill, Mayor Raymond W. Greene had requested contractors working on major jobs in the city to bring their construction debris to the site for use as landfill. Mayor Greene assured residents the landfill had been provided and trucked in at “no cost to the City.”
Does any of this sound familiar?
Open up our community.
Enough is enough
This raises a question: are there additional “allowances” in the Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP)? If yes, please identify them now.
From where I sit, this is negligence on the part of city staff, namely city manager (mis-manager) Randy Knight. I attended one of the OAO meetings where he was pretentious and dismissive of any idea other than his self-ordained best concept. I am not sure how one removes the city manager, but this one must go. He has overseen two major failing projects, the OAO and the Library, that is actually a museum dressed up as a library.
I think Randy Knight should negotiate for early retirement!
I played in that swamp when I was a kid along with my brother and two friends. We built make shift rafts to try to float across the muck only to sink in deep mud up to our knees a few feet from the shore area.
We’d head home all muddy to clean off the mud. Sometimes someone would lose a shoe in the muck.
Fairolyn, Your little piece of fun and history is wonderful but it may have a tragic ending!
With predicted escalating costs, the library + Events Center is potentially the finest and largest public works project in our city’s history. Except for one small detail. We don’t have the funds. The early pledge was a $30 million deal for 3 structures. We only got 2. Then the square footage for the library was reduced from a very vocal commitment of 50,000sf to the 35,000sf range. Then the project price took off like a Space-X rocket from a short-lived $30 million to $42 million and hasn’t yet hit orbit. The correct answer:—this will be a $50 million ++ project —easily. (Just look at the ongoing quagmire over the site prep and foundation costs. We’re not even out of the ground yet). All fine and well as long as someone—other than the city—other than the CRA— has the big bucks. We’re looking at a $15-20 million private fundraising gap. So far pledges from the private sector total $3 million over a generous span of 3+ years. So Mayor Leary—this is your baby—lead the charge. I suggest you partner w the Chamber which has so eagerly decided Morse and Harper qualifies as an international tourist destination. Fine then. It’s time to ante up. This is not rocket science. No money. No project.
Before she passed, my friend Lurline Fletcher, a multi-generation West Side resident, brought this concern up at meeting after meeting. Her concerns were always dismissed. She knew what she was talking about. I miss her.
I was there when she stood up and told our Knighted architect that the whole thing would sink into a sink hole. We all miss Lurline!
Why weren’t pilings evaluated?
In reply to Anne: Remember The City manager takes his orders from the mayor and commissioners. Three commissioners by vote told the City Manager to go ahead with both projects. Only one person who voted to go forward is still on the commission
I believe that Commissioner Cooper has voted for moving forward with the library every time a vote has come up. Correct me if I’m wrong.
Now it’s time for commissioner Cooper to vote to stop this boondoggle in its tracks.
It is greatly disturbing to learn as early as 1958, it had been reported by the Winter Park Sun, that of the 21 acres where MLK Park exists today, “one-third is covered by muck which at some places goes 40 feet deep,” and “heavy structures cannot be erected because of the swampy and soft condition of the land,” and that the then City Manager, Clark Maxwell, told the Winter Park Sun, “The entire area has to be investigated and the ground tested before it is possible to determine how to develop it.”
Recognizing these facts and continuing to forge ahead with the library project on the MLK Park land at a tremendous cost to the city and waste of human resources, will only end tragically. I would immediately abandon the idea of ever building the new library on the MLK Park land. Instead, I would propose the existing Winter Park Library be demolished and rebuilt or renovated exactly where it exists today. Perhaps, the City of Winter Park could approach Rollins College inquiring whether they would be open to sharing a portion of their new parking garage with the Winter Park Library employees and patrons as a gesture of good will. The garage is large and ideally positioned right across the street. It may even be possible to build an enclosed pedestrian bridge above street level which would connect the garage with the library, allowing patrons and employees to walk safely to and from the two buildings without disrupting traffic. The space created by moving most of the parking offsite, would permit a considerably larger state-of-the-art library to be built, one Winter Park residents could fully and proudly endorse.
Bonnie, I applaud your creative thinking, but unfortunately, there are several issues with your suggestions.
1) There has been a legal ruling that the library and events center must be built TOGETHER and at MLK Park, otherwise the bond referendum funding the project would be invalidated.
2) Demolishing the existing library was studied in 2015 and the cost back then for that project alone would be over $25 million — and there is no place inside Winter Park where the library could temporarily move.
3) Rollins already shares parking with the library staff in the Alfond parking lot, but the Alfond is slated for expansion, so I doubt Rollins is interested in sharing parking in the future. They have their own agenda.
We need to come together and support the project and ensure that the LIBRARY takes precedence over the fancy events center no one asked for. I don’t think it was the library’s idea for their square footage to shrink while the events center’s grew…
Actually, the city has already deviated significantly from the language of the bond referendum because there is no “parking structure” being built with the proceeds. Voters approved bond language which included a “related parking structure”.
Unknown whether the city could also elect not to build the events center and get away with it. No person or entity has litigated that omission of the parking structure – so who knows?
Bonnie is right. It would absolutely be possible to build a new library at the old site. It just could not be done utilizing the proceeds from the existing bond issue.
The civil court judgment entered in the bond validation suit brought by the City locked the City into the location at the north west corner of MLK Park. Bond funds from this issue cannot be used anywhere else.
Premature demolition of the Rachel Murrah Civic Center before the true cost or even the GMP (guaranteed minimum price) to build the new library and event center could be known meant that the City has fewer options available to it overall. Leary was very deliberate in rushing to remove trees and demolish the civic center.
(The cost to refurbish/update the Rachel Murrah was never obtained and the library task force never had the benefit of that number.) As library budget concerns have mounted, Commissioner Cooper moved twice to delay the demolition of the Civic Center until the library budget was more fully understood, but she was ruled out of order by the Mayor.
Bonnie may not be wrong about the old library either. Razing and replacing it is not the only option. It surely can be remodeled and improved.
An “Old Library Reuse Task Force” met for many weeks in 2019. The task force determined that the city ought to retain the building (and site) because multiple future uses for the building were viable options. Moving City Hall to the building on a temporary or permanent basis was just one of the possibilities. Certainly, a modern library is just as possible.
It would have been really interesting to know what the total, combined budget would have been to remodel/refurb/rehab the existing building plus the Rachel Murrah. As we pass the $42 million mark for the library/events center, sans parking structure; $25 million for a new library at the old site begins to sound like a real bargain.
As for Rollins having their own agenda, on that we can agree 100%.
Thanks, Bonnie, for some food for thought.
Beautiful, simple idea, Bonnie!
Open letter to the commission and Mayor.
“Here are my suggestions moving forward with the Library planning and construction.
Fire the library architect and program manager. The expenses are already eating up the contingency even though we are only at the site prep stage. Changing architects is not something new in Winter Park. We did that with the Public Safety Building. Let’s go back to building the best library at the $30 million cost. Send the TDT money back to Orange County (they already have collected $100 million less this year alone.) The site work already being conducted can be used for a newly redesigned library and event center without the “International tourist destination” theme. Design it for our residents, businesses, and surrounding community. And if you would like bullet points on why this has turned into a giant boondoggle, I and many members of the community have pointed out numerous reasons to pull back now, not the least of which is the cost overruns. And remember Mr. Mayor, we met at Panera’s 1 ½ to 2 years ago to discuss my concern with the underlying suitability of the site and I had with me a foot-high stack of environmental reports outlining the problems with the site. Now we are paying the price through added remediation efforts and skyrocketing costs.
The “Library” story is either a tragedy or a comedy. Difficult to discern which. So let’s call it a Tragicomedy. Either way the story is grotesque.