THE BUZZ: Needs and Wants

By on July 25, 2017

A SPET darling, the Parks and Rec housing and maintenance project is on pause.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – The only housing project voters approved in the May SPET election is stalled for now. A sole construction bid for the Teton County Parks and Recreation housing and maintenance project came in almost 80 percent over the anticipated budget, and while many of the conversations about the housing crisis have focused on supply versus demand, it seems the community is currently oversaturated with development projects and short the people to complete them. Now, town and county electeds will have to decide what to prioritize: voter-approved housing dollars, or critical Parks and Rec maintenance building updates.

Voters approved $2.9 million of funding for a housing project on the Parks and Recreation maintenance facility in the May SPET election, but the total cost of the housing project plus maintenance facility upgrades has brought housing to a halt for now. The housing development as proposed would put 21 rental units above a new Parks and Rec maintenance facility and administration building.

At a town and county joint meeting Monday afternoon, Parks and Rec director Steve Ashworth explained that after fielding 14 general contractors, 10 of which expressed interest in the project, only Shaw Construction came through with a bid. Their estimate is $11.3 million. Parks and Rec estimated a budget of $6.8 million. The available fund, however, is $5.5 million.

It’s disappointing, Ashworth said, that costs have escalated so much in the 16 months since the project’s inception. But the project’s size has also grown. Some of that is because we have a scope increase, Ashworth said. Added basement space and extra material come with added cost.

But Mayor Pete Muldoon also suspects that the lack of bids stems, at least in part, from a lack of resources. “The capacity is not there to build both [housing and maintenance],” Muldoon said. “Are there literally enough bodies here to pound the nails? We’re kind of throwing fuel on the fire here.”

Still, despite being the only bid on the table, Ashworth said he felt Shaw’s bid is competitive. The question now is how to move forward when the town and the county together don’t have enough money allocated to fund the project.

“It’s hard to recommend as a staff on a direction without a conversation with you all,” Ashworth told elected officials. “The funding that has been allocated is not sufficient in order to move this forward.”

The housing project approved in the May SPET election is bound to the Parks and Rec maintenance facility location. The project in question includes an affordable housing unit for Parks and Rec employees, in addition to a maintenance shop, administrative offices, and basements for equipment maintenance and storage. But future decisions will require either a balancing act of different priorities, or a complete annexation of parts of the project.

“Our first and highest priority from the very beginning was to get our equipment inside, and then we talked about housing and we went to SPET,” Ashworth said.

“The public definitely voted on employee housing,” Teton County Commissioner Greg Epstein said. Indeed, $2.9 million worth of employee housing was approved by voters. Putting off that portion of the project would essentially bind $2.9 million in tax revenue. And every penny of that money is specific to that location. SPET ballot language specifically said housing would be built at the Parks and Rec maintenance facility, so the housing portion could not be decoupled from the maintenance facility without another vote.

“I think the question really is, since the SPET money is already allocated to this location for housing only, do we move forward with housing … and not do anything else with Parks and Rec except for housing,” Epstein said. “If we want to get it back down to five or six million dollars, we have to move the Parks and Rec facility project.”

The town and county have a handful of options to consider: Parks and Rec staff presented four different ways to split the project into phases and lower immediate costs, but the cheapest option will still cost $8.7 million dollars, which neither body has. They would have to reallocate funds from 2018 or even 2019 capital projects.

Alternatively, they could ask for a complete redesign that might bring total construction costs down. But that’s not a guarantee, and just the redesign would cost more money—the original design plan cost half a million dollars.

“A redesign is going to cost as much,” Bob McLaurin said. “In this environment, when everybody is so busy, you’re not going to get it any cheaper.”

Or they could take no action any time soon, and hope the market improves. But that’s even less of a guarantee, and the clock is ticking.

“I’m OK waiting and working with everyone,” Chase Beninga of Shaw Construction said. “But I’m worried about some of the subcontractors pulling their bids, which are obviously tied to ours.” Waiting too long, Beninga said, risks workers braving winter conditions, and losing some key subcontractors.

“Two major trades want to know whether they want to take on other work. In this market, there’s plenty out there,” Beninga said.

Neither the town nor the county needed to take definitive action Monday afternoon. Instead, they agreed to continue hashing out the options, and to hopefully make a decision at the August 7 joint information meeting. “We owe it to ourselves,” Muldoon said, “to really take a hard look at whether we believe this is the new market, and a sustainable cost. This isn’t a five percent increase or a 10 percent increase, this is a significant increase … I don’t like making these kinds of decisions out of desperation.”PJH

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