Though the decision to spend $21 million to renovate the Clinton G. Martin Park pool in New Hyde Park had been made on May 8 by the North Hempstead Town Board, it continued to draw critical comments at the June 6 board meeting. Town leaders repeatedly found themselves forced to defend the process and the decision.
The big item on that night’s agenda was a resolution to bond an additional $9 million (on top of the original $14 million) to pay for the renovation.
When the planning to repair the aging pool began last summer, town leaders had estimated the cost of the project at $14.6 million. But after 19 firms studied the plans, only two bids were submitted—and their projected costs shocked the town and residents of the park district, who will see a rise in their taxes. The town board voted 7-0 to award the contract to the Gramercy Group, Inc. of Wantagh, whose base bid was $19.5 million. Additional improvements and renovations at the park complex will add to the costs.
A number of meetings were held, and residents also made their feelings known through emails and phone calls and surveys sent to every household in the park district. There were passionate arguments on both sides of the issue, but in the end, the board went with the prevailing opinion to fix the pool.
Councilman Angelo Ferraro explained the bonding resolution, stating, “In order to accommodate the new version [of the pool] we have to add additional money to the potential that we need to borrow. We may not borrow the whole amount because as you go through the construction process, there may be things that we negotiate with the engineers to [save money]. There are negotiations that take place, but they could only take place after you decide who the contractor is.”
“I was appalled by the costs,” observed Ferraro, and Supervisor Judi Bosworth chimed in, “We all were. The vast majority of people were not thrilled that it was going to be more money [but] said, ‘We need this pool. We want you to go forward. We want you to say yes tonight [May 8].’ Because if we had not said yes, that would’ve guaranteed that the pool would’ve been closed for two seasons. There was no guarantee that if it went out to rebid that it would not have come in higher. So the decision was made to vote to go forward.”
A resident asked about potential cost overruns. Bosworth called on Commissioner of Public Works Paul DiMaria.
“Yes we do have certain allowances in the project in case there are unforeseen conditions so that we can keep moving with the project on schedule,” he said.
Bosworth also said that the town had received a AAA rating from Moody’s—the highest a municipality can receive—and would get the “very best interest rate because of this high bond rating. And we intend to keep that.”
Ferraro stated, “I can assure you—[speaking for] myself and everyone on this board—when we make a decision to spend money, I ask myself this question: would I spend it if it was coming out of my pocket? And if the answer is yes, I will spend that money.”
Ferraro understood, he said, that raising annual taxes in the park district by even a modest amount to repay the bond might be burdensome to some.
One resident said that she grew up with the pool, but as a homeowner in the district, “I do not care about the pool, a pool with declining membership.”
Another resident also had questions about the process, wondering if the board in fact had done all it could to get the public’s viewpoint, and even questioned the transparency.
Ferraro responded, “We had numerous meetings, we had petitions, we had emails, we’ve had phone calls. We have no agenda here to vote on something the community doesn’t want.”
Bosworth said, “I would say we’ve done the most outreach for this project than for any other projects since I’ve been involved. We had meeting after meeting after meeting…The purpose of the survey was not to take a vote, but to get a sense of the community and to make sure that everybody in the community knew that this was being discussed.”
Councilwoman Dina DeGiorgio defended the board’s outreach.
“There was a tremendous amount of support for the pool renovation,” she said. “But there were definitely people who were concerned about the cost, and we were very upset at the way the bids came back. Hundreds of people came out [to have their say], and they do want this pool, and not renovating it means not having this pool, and I don’t think that this was really an option for the residents of the park district.”
At the May 8 meeting, the board authorized a $480,394 contract with the engineering consulting firm LiRo, with a national reach and based in Syosset, to provide project oversight.
The target completion date is June 2018.