Frustrated with the oft-delayed project but resigned to the reality that there was no other way forward, the City Commission approved the hiring of a new firm to assume engineering duties at Lift Station 87 at its meeting Monday night.
The city will pay McKim & Creed $1.1 million for phase one of engineering work at the lift station in Luke Wood Park. That includes assuming responsibility as the engineer of record after the city's agreement with the previous engineer fell through and the project stalled. City Manager Tom Barwin said the prior firm was "obviously in breach of contract," and that litigation is currently ongoing as a result.
After collecting data at the lift station and evaluating methods of completing construction, McKim & Creed will return to the commission and present the costs for phase two of the work. Phase one is slated to take 150 days, and City Manager Tom Barwin said the "aspirational" date of completion was August 2015. Still, he acknowledged, that was a best case scenario; city staff said work could last until April 2016.
Several commissioners expressed their frustration with the project to date, which cost the city $7 million before McKim & Creed were brought aboard. Still, they said, they hoped this was a step toward closure — though not all of them were optimistic.
"I support this, because I don't see what other options we have, but I cringe to think of what surprises wait for us," Commissioner Paul Caragiulo said.
A few days before Monday night's meeting, Caragiulo requested an item be added to the agenda so the committee might discuss ongoing efforts to combat homelessness in the area. Before long, though, he and commissioner Susan Chapman were engaging in a back-and-forth that seemed to be not just about homelessness.
Caragiulo said, in advance of a county budget meeting tomorrow, it might be useful for the Commission to state, on the record, a general interest in working with the county on developing a homeless facility.
Chapman said she wanted to wait for more details before committing to anything, including reports from Robert Marbut, the consultant the county and city paid to develop a strategy to fight homelessness in the area. She also objected to a news report that suggested Caragiulo was committed to developing a facility in the mold of Pinellas Safe Harbor, a Pinellas County Sheriff-run shelter where Marbut had consulted.
"I haven't received minutes of any of these tours taken by groups," Chapman said about city and county officials, including Caragiulo, that have toured Pinellas Safe Harbor. "What I've learned about it has been in the newspaper."
Caragiulo said he toured Pinellas Safe Harbor of his own accord and that he had personally reached out to Marbut before and after he had come to an agreement with the city and county. In response to Chapman's complaints about not being invited to the Pinellas facility, he said that commissioners, per sunshine law, are not allowed to take trips of that nature with one another.
After the meeting — where no firm commitment was made by the commission on the issue, due to concerns from several commissioners who hadn't visited the Pinellas facility — Caragiulo criticized Chapman for what he considered to be petty complaints, driven by personality more than anything.
"It's absurd," Caragiulo said. "It's not how serious people deal with things."
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Also during the meeting, commissioners:
• Directed staff that proposed roundabouts along U.S. 41 should feature ornamental walls and art focal points as part of center island landscaping. Commissioners emphasized the degree to which roundabouts with shared features would improve the city's branding at the large, multi-lane roundabouts.
• Sent the proposed $18,000 purchase and installation of a statue, Bharata, at Five Points Park to the Parks, Recreation and Environmental Protection Board for further consideration.
• Approved, at a second public hearing, the adaption of the Laurel Park Overlay District, with Caragiulo the lone dissenting vote.