Commissioners seek bids on new pool
Grady County commissioners on Tuesday night refused to move forward with Grady County administrator Carlos Tobar’s recommendation to construct a splash pad facility at Barber Park.
Tobar sought authorization from the board for Chairman Charles Norton to execute a grant agreement with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources on a $100,000 grant awarded to the county for Barber Park improvements and authorization to spend 2008 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax proceeds for the architectural design of the splash pad facility.
Commissioners discussed the matter at length Tuesday night and heard from supporters of the original proposed lap pool.
Grady County Commissioner T.D. David opened the dialogue by expressing his concerns that no pool option was presented at the Nov. 4 public hearing/open house.
“I felt like we presented one side of an issue. You have to look at it that way, because you are either for the pool or against it,” David said.
Commissioner David shared cost estimates gathered by Tobar from the website of USA Swimming that indicated the cost of building an eight-lane 25-yard pool would be $796,500 plus $54,000 for a 15-foot deck around the pool and estimated maintenance costs of $113,400 annually.
Tobar noted that cost of lifeguards were not included in those estimates.
“Those are the estimates according to USA Swimming. If you ask me who that is I can’t tell you. Does that make it official?” David asked.
Tobar said that was a website he went to to get cost estimates.
“I want the public exposed to these numbers so they know there is another side to this thing,” Commissioner David said.
He said the actual cost of building the pool could “go $200,000” either way, but that the actual cost would be less than the $3.2 million previously stated by Tobar.
The county administrator noted that the USA Swimming estimates for a 50-meter pool was closer to $3.2 million.
Grady County attorney Kevin S. Cauley reminded commissioners that the board had previously put the pool project out to bid and asked how those bids compared.
According to previous reports in The Cairo Messenger, in April 2009 Grady County administrator Rusty Moye presented the board with six bids for the design and construction of the aquatic center ranging from $994,297 by LLT/Building/Weller Pools to $765,505 by Crumley’s Construction Company.
Commissioners in May 2009 met with representatives of Crumley’s Construction, Jones Construction Company of Tifton and Aqua Design Systems Inc., of Fayetteville, but in July 2009 voted to postpone construction with only former commissioner Bobby Burns voting in opposition to the postponement.
Grady County voters approved the 2008 SPLOST and $900,000 was earmarked for the aquatic center.
Pool proponent John Brannon told commissioners Tuesday night the proposal put out to bid in 2009 included the lap pool, splash pad, and a whirlpool. “We never talked about a 50-meter pool,” Brannon said.
Commissioner David also acknowledged Tuesday night that a pool that could host swimming meets would generate an economic benefit to the county.
Commissioner Elwyn Childs shared with the board estimates from a recent soccer tournament held in Thomas County that involved 69 teams and had an economic impact of $386,000. “We can’t compare ourselves with that, but take half or a third and we can have money come into the county if we invest right in recreation,” Childs said.
The lack of estimates on operation costs was also discussed Tuesday night. Commissioner Childs asked if the City of Cairo had been contacted to obtain information about their costs of operating the Holder Park pool. According to Tobar, the city spends $60,000 annually to operate the Holder Park pool with approximately $30,000 for maintenance and operation and $30,000 for lifeguards for the 10-week pool season.
Sumter County Recreation director Tim Estes, who spoke at the Nov. 4 public hearing, estimated that a 25-yard competitive pool could be built for less than $900,000 and he said that approximately seven years ago he built a smaller pool for less than $300,000.
The Sumter County recreation official also said that his annual maintenance and operation budget for those two public pools was $70,000 for the eight-week pool season.
“We’ve been talking about this for two years and you (the board) let me apply for this grant for $100,000 for exercise equipment and a splash pad. I asked repeatedly if you were ok with this,” Tobar commented.
Commissioner LaFaye Copeland questioned if a pool was actually considered since the ballot language referred to an aquatic center and not specifically to a pool.
The county attorney said that the ballot language was worded with the intent of giving the board discretion on how the money was to be spent. “Clearly the only discussion was about a pool,” Cauley said.
Commissioner Childs asked about the possibility of expanding the Holder Park pool. Pool proponent Barbara Hinson said that the city’s pool was not deep enough or long enough to serve as a competitive pool.
Brannon said that maintenance and operation of the pool was not the issue at hand. He said it is a matter of whether the board was going to honor the will of the voters.
A total of 975 votes were cast in the SPLOST referendum in March 2007 with the measure passing by 175 votes.
Commissioner Copeland noted that less than 1,000 people, which was less than nine percent of the registered voters, voted in the election, however, Cauley noted that it was a legitimately held election and the results are binding regardless of how few voted.
The county attorney said the county could put the pool question on the next SPLOST referendum, but pointed out that would not be held until Nov. 2020.
Chairman Charles Norton asked what would be the ramifications if the county declined the grant. Tobar said it was unlikely he would be successful in getting another one.
“You may not get another SPLOST passed either,” Commissioner Childs replied.
During the discussion Tuesday night, Tobar admitted the grant could be used for either the splash pad or the pool, a fact that took commissioners by surprise.
“So it can be used for a pool or a splash pad?” Commissioner Prince asked. “Either one,” Tobar said. “Didn’t you say something different previously?” Commissioner David asked.
Tobar said his fear was the commissioners would abandon the project all together. “I’ve heard two commissioners say they might abandon the project,” Tobar said.
Commissioner Copeland suggested Tobar “get that fear out of your mind. Shoo fly, shoo.”
Tobar has not obtained actual cost estimates to construct the splash pad facility he has proposed. He said he used a figure of $275,000 in applying for the grant, but with other planned facilities the total project cost was estimated at $400,000 to come out of SPLOST and the remainder to come from the $100,000 grant and $13,000 in private donations.
“My problem with all of this is we have no hard numbers. We’re just pulling numbers out of the sky. Until we know exactly what we are talking about I’m not going to vote for nothing. We’re working in the dark,” Commissioner Ray Prince said.
Chairman Norton agreed and said, “Until we go out for bids that’s the only way to know what the cost will be.”
Norton asked Tobar how quickly he could obtain quotes and what was the deadline on signing the grant agreement. The administrator said he would begin as soon as possible and said that he had been told the deadline to execute the grant agreement was the end of the year, but said he would verify Wednesday.
Commissioner David took issue with Prince’s assessment that the board did not know what it was doing. David said the board was moving forward with the splash pad facility because they thought the pool proponents would agree with the project.
David said once the board learned the pool proponents were opposed to the splash pad facility the board stopped to reconsider.
“That’s the only reason we are here tonight or we would have gone ahead with the splash pad. We thought that was ok and that is what we were going to do,” David said.
After a lengthy discussion, the board instructed Tobar to solicit bids for the pool project including a splash pad feature and for a pool separately and a splash pad separately.
Brannon offered to meet with Tobar and share the information the pool proponents have concerning pools and pool construction.
“We’re just happy to get the conversation started again. It’s been 10 years,” Brannon said.
Commissioner Childs said he did not want the board of commissioners to get the reputation of not doing what they have said they would do. He warned that the board could be penalized when a future SPLOST is put before the voters.
Commissioner David asked the small group of pool proponents present Tuesday night if the board voted to build a splash pad facility only would they work to defeat a future SPLOST.
Barbara Hinson said she would and Brannon said it was not an issue of building a pool or not. “This is about honesty and integrity,” Brannon said.