Just moments after the Sarasota County Commission voted Dec. 7 to approve a contract that could lead to faster completion of the Siesta Public Beach improvements, county Parks and Recreation Department staff and project managers held an impromptu celebration outside the Commission Chambers.
Just three months earlier, the commissioners had voiced determination not to drag out the project until the 2024 fiscal year, at an estimated cost of $21.5 million. Instead, the majority of the board supported completing the improvements by the end of 2014.
What remains to be figured out is the financing — and whether that faster timetable is feasible. Later this month or in February, Executive Director of Public Works James K. Harriott Jr. and Steve Botelho, the county’s interim chief financial planning officer, will meet with the commissioners to update them on the numbers.
“We’re optimistic, as projects (become) complete (and) we see how the (Capital Improvement Program) works out … that we will be able to do that type of project,” Harriott told the commissioners Dec. 7, referring to the faster beach work.
“It just seems, with the … lower (construction) prices today, the (lower) interest rates and the least amount of disruption to the people, the quicker we get this entire project done, the better for the community,” Commissioner Joe Barbetta said.
However, Commissioner Christine Robinson has voiced opposition to the county’s borrowing funds to finish the beach improvements in a 14- to 16-month time frame. She won assurances from Harriott that approving a contract with Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc. for final design and limited construction phase services would not obligate the county to complete the beach project on an accelerated timetable if adequate funding could not be found.
Barbetta has asked Harriott and Botelho to provide the County Commission with a comparison of the projected costs for the beach improvements on the faster timeline and on the timeline ending in 2024.
“How much more would this project cost us (to delay it)?” Barbetta said.
“And that’s exactly what we’re trying to work on and iron out,” Harriott said.
Commissioner Jon Thaxton told Harriott, “This is, in essence, building capital that’s going to repay us in spades, time and time and time again,” he said.
“This is the goose that lays golden eggs, and right now, the goose just doesn’t match up to the expectations, I think, of the citizens of Sarasota (and) visitors,” Thaxton added.
While Harriott and Botelho work on the financing, beach project manager Curtis Smith has been accepting more comments from Siesta residents and members of stakeholders groups.
Some people are worried the accelerated construction plan could pose problems for events such as the July Fourth fireworks VIP picnic and the Crystal Classic Master Sandsculpting Competition, held every November.
In a recent email to stakeholder group representatives, Smith wrote that during the next 12 months, the project team would work to identify events and activities that might be affected by the construction.
“The project team is committed to doing all it reasonably can to minimize disrupting the normal life of the park,” Smith said.
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