The large number of stakeholders in the Siesta Key Beach Improvement Project has created a communication disconnect, which has led to delays — and heated debates.
Sarasota County commissioners approved the $16.4 million preliminary project design Sept. 14, 2011, but during a Nov. 13 meeting, commissioners continued to criticize staff involved, along with the current estimated cost of $26.7 million.
County Administrator Randall Reid sent out a memo to commissioners before the Nov. 13 meeting that included a breakdown of prices for options the county is considering for the project, and included an option to pare the current $26.7 million estimate back to the $21.5 million originally budgeted.
“We shouldn’t be having these sorts of discussions,” County Commission Chairwoman Christine Robinson said during the half-hour meeting.
The County Commission’s role as policy-maker should not include this type of micro-managing, she said.
County Engineer Jim Harriott told commissioners one week prior that the latest estimate on the total project fell between $26 and $27 million, which Robinson said was “completely inaccurate.”
County Commissioner Joe Barbetta lobbed criticism at county staff for considering options that would boost the project’s price tag without reporting to the commission, which is responsible for the final approval.
“We haven’t had input on this for a while — in fact, we’ve been in the dark,” Barbetta said.
But, during a Nov. 13 open house, in which 60% completed design plans were unveiled to the public, Sarasota County Resources Manager Hank Schneider explained that unexpected costs can occur.
“When the architects draw out the preliminary plans, they have fat markers,” Schneider said. The myriad building regulations applicable to Siesta public beach are rarely met with those designs, he said.
Since commissioners unanimously approved the enhancements, county staff from multiple departments and Kimley-Horn staff have worked to define the details of the park enhancements, for which the county currently has $7.5 million appropriated, with plans to collect the remaining $14 million through the 2024 fiscal year.
The open house was held to reveal the plans and answer questions from the public. County commissioners will hear a formal presentation from staff Dec. 11 and have the chance to give directions on the project’s design and funding options.
In the cost-cutting scenario from Reid’s memo, the county would settle for lighting and landscaping that meets minimum code-requirements, reduce signage, eliminate the themed parking lot and gateway feature and remove a maintenance storage shed. That would bring construction cost from $21.4 million down to $16.4 million, and the total price tag down to $20.9 million.
“I think staff got the message,” Barbetta said following the meeting.
Small design changes translated into major price jumps for the Siesta Key beach improvement project, when Sarasota County staff considered government regulations.
“The (project site) is the most regulated coastal area in Sarasota County,” said county spokesman Curt Pressier during an open house Nov. 3 that revealed Siesta Key Beach Project plans to the public.
In the plans, the maintenance building designed by Sweet Sparkman Architects (formerly ToTEMS) wasn’t close enough to the new restroom facility. So, designers moved it.
But, county staff discovered it was in a floodplain that’s notorious for heavy flooding during storms. So, they raised the building.
Then county engineers had to raise fixtures to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act standards, which also led to planners inserting an elevator because the building was too small to wrap a wheelchair ramp around, Sarasota County Resources Manager Hank Schneider said.