ENCINITAS — “Buy now, pay later” was the mantra at the City Council meeting June 22. The city is seeking construction bids for a stalled 44-acre park project and calculating whether it can afford to build everything in the plans or have to alter them to accommodate recent construction estimates that outnumbers the city’s budget.
The city set aside $9.8 million for the project thus far, but that figure falls well short of the most recent construction estimate of $18 million. Jim O’Grady, the city’s interim parks and recreation director, told the council during the meeting that the $18 million figure is the city’s “best guess” at this point. He conceded that it might not be an accurate one. The city will not have a concrete estimate of the costs until it has bids from contractors he said.
“We do still have a favorable bidding climate compared to several years ago,” O’ Grady said. He cited the national economic recession as the impetus for bringing down construction costs.
Recently named the Encinitas Community Park, the former Hall property is proposed to contain ball fields, a skate park, a dog-friendly area, children’s play structures, a swim complex, areas of room to roam and trails.
Several council members said Wednesday night they had no interest in eliminating anything from the project. In fact, the skate park and dog area received specific support. A large crowd of skateboarders and several dog advocates loudly applauded those statements.
Community residents are on edge, fearing part of the park will be eliminated.
“My son doesn’t have any practice fields,” said Jose Gonzalez, whose son plays recreational soccer. “We’re constantly scrambling to find fields to use for practice and those aren’t very good.”
The city staff report said that the ball fields would be included in the first phase of bidding.
The council heard from a dozen public speakers, many of them avid skateboarders requesting that the city keep its plan to build a public skate park at the site. Several said the city has been promising them a park for a decade or more.
Encinitas resident Miles Wood read a list of the many famous skateboarders who hail from Encinitas and said it was “high time” that the city acknowledged that part of its heritage by building a public skate park. The city currently has a small skate feature at Leucadia Oaks Park and unlike other surrounding cities, has failed to nurture a sport that put it on the map.
The skate park and dog park were singled out in a city staff report as items the council might consider scaling back on or completely removing from the first phase of construction as cost-saving measures. The skate park is estimated to cost $1.4 million. Several skate park designers said the figure was on the high side and could be modified to save money.
Wood and dog park advocate Laurie Michaels offered to fundraise to support the park construction. Council members said they might take them up on their offers depending on how the construction bids come in.
Councilwoman Kristin Gaspar said she did not support dropping anything from the project until the city has contractors’ bids in hand. “I’m not prepared tonight to eliminate any one element of the park,” she said.
Councilwoman Maggie Houlihan was concerned that if the city delayed the skate park and dog park until the second phase of the project neither would be built. Councilwoman Teresa Barth said the future Encinitas Community Park wouldn’t be a true “community” park to her if it were comprised solely of ball fields and not the other elements.
Rather than eliminate items, council members directed city staff to create a bid package listing many aspects of the project separately so contractors could submit individual construction costs for them.
That methodology still didn’t resolve the anxiety of some residents who have waited for nearly a decade for the park to be built.
“We bought this property; said we were going to build a park — a place for our kids to play — and here we are without any money in hand asking the community to fundraise,” said Paul Bohner, a Leucadia resident. “It’s just pathetic that our city leaders didn’t plan better for this.”