Sarasota County commissioners assigned staff to prepare a report on the Siesta Key beach-improvement project in September.
But three weeks after the board assignment was due, during the Nov. 6 County Commission meeting, county staff was still unsure about a timetable for project landmarks, and the estimated cost had grown to as much as $27 million.
Sarasota County Engineer Jim Harriott announced a possible postponement of a public meeting at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church, scheduled for Nov. 13, about the beach project.
“If you want the public to attend, you usually have to give a little bit of notice,” said County Commissioner Nora Patterson.
Commissioner Joe Barbetta again brought up the beach improvements during the Nov. 7 County Commission meeting; he cited confusion about the open house after receiving a postcard invitation for it. As of Wednesday afternoon, county staff was still preparing for the scheduled meeting, according to Sarasota County Resources Manager Hank Schneider.
“We wanted to make sure we were designing the right thing,” Harriott said. “There’s a $20 million project, and there are options that get you up to about $25 million.” The design commissioners already approved is currently about a $26 million to $27 million project, Harriott explained, with $20 million earmarked for the enhancements.
“We’re rapidly approaching year end; the economy is starting to come back; interest rates are going to go up; construction costs are going to go up; and we’re losing this huge window of opportunity,” said Sarasota County Commissioner Joe Barbetta.
Harriott compared the project with building a house or buying a car, in that as the design process progresses, new options appear. And as county staff considers input from architects, engineers, builders and the public, picking which options to add to the project, such as the esplanade or observation deck for the beach improvements, takes considerable time.
The design process, which has landmarks at 30%, 60% and 90%, also causes price estimates to fluctuate, Harriott explained. The beach project design is nearing the 90% mark, but is stuck at 60%, until staff can consider input from the public and County Commission. Sarasota County project manager Curtis Smith said the 60% design and cost-cutting options would have been presented at the public meeting.
“Everything seems to be frozen in place and we need to move on this,” Barbetta said.
“This appears to be a moving target for us right now,” said County Commission Chairwoman Christine Robinson. Commissioners voted for staff to compile a project timeline of the five months since the 60% timeline was approved, as well as a projected timeline of future landmarks.
Interest rates and construction costs are tied to the economic climate, which Barbetta said would mean a higher total cost for the project as the economy recovers. Production costs have grown each of the last four months according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“This is costing us money every day we delay it — every day,” Barbetta said.