Fort Smith, Sebastian County officials to revisit water park plan

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

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."

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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.

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Water Park

Just cancel the whole thing. This is not the water park I voted on. It's only a 50 minute drive to Clarksville! Have you seen the new indoor pools they have just opened?

Punt for Justice

They should man up and admit that the City Administrator and County Judge made a huge error in selecting Flintco as the Company to handle the construction project because Flintco has raised the projected cost to 11 million dollars. Our local contractor that built the beautiful Clarksville Water Park said that they could build the Water Park for about 2 million dollars less than the out of state Flintco group and could also include the indoor pools. It seems to be a no brainer on who should get the project but the Judge and City Administrator refuse to admit that they may have made a mistake. A local contractor with local jobs helps our economy and keeps the money local but city leaders seem to prefer an out of state company that has been investigated by the FBI and charged by the Attorney General with paying bribes in return for construction projects and what is interesting is that the bribes paid by Flintco are in the neighborhood of 2 million dollars.

The Sad Thing About It All

Leadership simply does not listen to the will of the people and seem to continue with the same expensive mistakes that are hurting the taxpayers along with the economy of Fort Smith! Local jobs help our economy but the City Administrator and County Judge along with a few City Directors and JP's seem to prefer a out of state contractor who has been charged with paying out huge bribes in return for construction projects. Maybe someone should ask the FBI to investigate why our Leaders are so willing to spend 2 million extra tax dollars to get less construction while hurting the Fort Smith economy. additionally, Fort smith was gifted 1 million dollars by the Walton family for riverfront trail construction and the city will be required to spend an additional 1 million dollars of Fort Smith taxpayer money for construction and that amounts to about 384.00 dollars per foot in spending for a trail? Is anyone really concerned about the people or is it a race to see who can spend the most taxpayer money?

Water Park

The water park was and has been a bad idea. Back before the election and before the hype many including myself tried to warn that this would eventually be a fiasco and very simliliar to the convention center. I was wrong in thinking it would take that long for it to happen. We havent even built the WP and it's already a disaster! The costs have gone through the roof, the design has changed many times, the park has decreased in size. Now we want the city and county to provide even more "in kind" services. My question is...with these "in kind" services being performed by city/county workers, what about their real day jobs? I assume that has been discussed and cleared with department heads? The last thing we need is staff out working on a water park while neglecting the rest of the city/county. Lets step back and think on this fellas. We dont need to build a WP that is small, outdated and useless. On our current path, in 15-20yrs the decision will be "the best way to tear down the water park and make it a parking lot again will be...??"

many moons ago

many years ago this old fox was curious about the city budget and surplus funds at city hall and asked for a copy of the city budget in the late 1990's and seem to remember seeing a surplus rainy day fund of close to 280 million dollars. What happened to all the taxpayer money?

Interesting Questions Matt

Don't hold your breath waiting for answers from the gang.

The sound of silence is becoming deafening..

..when there are this many questions about the use of Flintco construction out of Tulsa in lieu of a local one and yet not one official from either the city or county feels they need say one word at all to citizens about why!! Why are they willing to accept so much less with the contractor they prefer with our money? IMO this needs to go on hold until we finally receive some facts on the deal.

The Perfect Storm

As a city director once said, "we don't answer questions" and it appears that is the way that it is. Did notice that a local experienced water park contractor said his company could build the water park for 2 million dollars less and include 2 indoor pools for year around use. What is really suspicious is that Federal Authorities have charged Flintco with paying 2 million in bribes to get construction contracts. Hmmmmm 2 million dollars extra in construction costs to provide less and paying out 2 million dollars in bribes. Is it arrogance that would allow Fort Smith city leaders to put themselves in this position and create "the perfect storm?"

What Voters Want & What City Provides?

Selling a product and then delivering a much inferior product is the kiss of death to a private sector business. Didn't the city administrator sell the original water park to all the civic groups and citizen forums in return for voters approving the renewal of a 1% sales tax? The voters held up their end of the bargain, but apparently the city hadn't done enough due diligence. The city can spend $2.1 million to provide utilities to 60 acres of privately owned riverfront property, the city can spend $4.3 million subsidizing the convention center and the A&P, but can't provide the citizens with what they approved in the 1% sales tax election? I voted against the water park before it was reduced down and it certainly doesn't look any better now.
Selling a product and then delivering a much inferior product is the kiss of death to a private sector business. Didn't the city administrator sell the original water park to all the civic groups and citizen forums in return for voters approving the renewal of a 1% sales tax? The voters held up their end of the bargain, but apparently the city hadn't done enough due diligence. The city can spend $2.1 million to provide utilities to 60 acres of privately owned riverfront property, the city can spend $4.3 million subsidizing the convention center and the A&P, but can't provide the citizens with what they approved in the 1% sales tax election? I voted against the ...>> Read the entire comment.

Flim Flam Politics

Are you saying that Fort Smith city leaders lied to the voters and pulled the wool over the eyes of Fort Smith citizen again?

Broken Promises

Fort Smith citizens have suffered from one broken promise after another from leadership and now we see the results in a poor job market along with an economy in decline.

Where did the extra $3 million cost originate?

This project was put forward for approval at $8 million. Where did the extra $3 million cost originate? Did the contractor up the price on the original estimate? Or were extra amenities requested after the approval of the park. If so, where did the request for the extra amenities come from? It looks like the original estimate was low-balled to get approval and then the real project cost now comes to light. I have no problem with whatever a well equipped and attractive water park costs for this area, whether it is $8 million or $11 million...or more. It will be money well spent for a recreational attraction for the area. I hate having to drive to Branson or Tulsa or Little Rock for a water park. Alma has done well with its water park but it is too small and over crowded to serve this entire area. I just think that if a competitive water park for the Fort Smith area was going to cost $11 million, it should have been put forth that way to begin with. As it is, it just looks like another example of shady politics.
This project was put forward for approval at $8 million. Where did the extra $3 million cost originate? Did the contractor up the price on the original estimate? Or were extra amenities requested after the approval of the park. If so, where did the request for the extra amenities come from? It looks like the original estimate was low-balled to get approval and then the real project cost now comes to light. I have no problem with whatever a well equipped and attractive water park costs for this area, whether it is $8 million or $11 million...or more. It will be money well spent for a recreational attraction for the area. I hate having to drive to Branson or ...>> Read the entire comment.

citizenkane