A special joint meeting of the Fort Smith Board of Directors and the Sebastian County Quorum Court will be held Monday (Dec. 9) at 6 p.m. at the Elm Grove Community Center to address funding issues associated with the Ben Geren Aquatics Center and possibly amend an interlocal agreement between the governments that lays out funding and operating expectations for the project.
It was revealed in November that the aquatics center would cost close to $11 million to construct should all amenities desired by the public and both governments be included. The original budget was $8 million.
The meeting Monday will present a revised aquatics center design that would bring the project to an $8.8 million price tag with fewer amenities. Requesting additional funds would require additional monies from both governments therefore necessitating the amended interlocal agreement, according to Fort Smith Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman.
"The whole thing is anticipated to be equally divided, including the cost of in-kind services," he said, adding that the amended agreement would bring the city's total additional funding to $457,000 while the county would contribute $342,500 extra to the project. The amount of in-kind services (labor, materials, etc.) provided by the city would equal $335,000 while the county would contribute $450,000 in in-kind contributions.
Dingman also said the public wanted the additional amenities, elected officials have not provided a way to fund such a project.
"We (the city staff) liked the $11 million design better because it incorporated everything we want, but without the elected officials giving us instruction to do something different, we have to do (what we can afford)," he said, adding again that while the city staff wants the larger project, "we don't feel like we can advance a design that is that far out of our budget."
Simply asking both governments to approve additional funds is challenging, as the Quorum Court has previously turned down a request from the city for more funding.
"We are taking a little bit of a chance asking for $8.8 million to get a few more amenities in this thing. If they want to do something different, we'll do something different. But we feel more comfortable with the $8.8 million."
Dingman said he felt this request could result in a positive vote from the Quorum Court and the Board of Directors (the Board previously approved the attempt early this year to get $800,000 in additional funding for the project). The previous request for the additional funding would have had the county loaning the city it's half of the extra funds with payback over a three-year period.
"It's my understanding that that was one of the reasons the county didn't like the proposal and didn't approve that. We have cash flow now that we didn't have at that point if we were going to start the project earlier. Cash flow is not an issue for us now like it was eight months ago. …The additional funds would come from the eighth-cent sales tax dedicated to park capital improvements. With the project schedule as it is at this point, we don't think there will be any problems with cash flowing that amount from the sales tax."
The Board and Court will be presented with a newly-revised concept designed jointly by Larkin Aquatics and the project's construction manager, Flintco. The revised concept will eliminate the diving well and reduce the length of the lazy river, according to a PowerPoint presentation included in materials prepared for elected officials to be present at the meeting.
"There's some pretty significant changes," Dingman said. "The most significant changes they'll see is we originally had three different bodies of water. The scaled down has only two separate bodies of water. Also, it eliminates a separate concession stand building and incorporates it into the bathhouse."
Additionally, structures in the kiddie pool will be smaller, while the aquatic center's four slides will now empty into the lazy river instead of a separate pool.
"It certainly doesn't include all the features we want, but it is a lot closer to the budget that we've got," Dingman said. "We can't have it both ways. If we want all the features, we have to have more budget. But look, we don't like it either. We'd rather have the larger facility. But we've had more time to look at the realities of what we can afford."
And even though the aquatics center design will now be smaller in scale, Dingman said "we've always had the idea that we could design this to expand in the future."
Sebastian County Judge David Hudson said he believes the meeting will help solidify plans that must stay on schedule in order for a guaranteed opening date for summer 2015.
"This will bring clarity and focus to the project by specifically presenting an action plan and a time frame so we can move forward and continue to meet the projected opening date of Memorial (Day) 2015. That's the real focus of the meeting," he said. "Any other ideas or funding concepts that come out of this discussion, I guess that's subject to what develops in the meeting. But we have a specific course of action that's being laid out."
The meeting will take place Monday at 6 p.m. at the Elm Grove Community Center on Greenwood Road in Fort Smith.