Wait continues for Hart Park playground

Officials worry about plans they haven't seen, rising costs

May 11, 2011

Tosa kids won't be climbing, swinging and sliding at Hart Park this summer, and the project is already over budget even though design work isn't finished yet.

The project could go to the Board of Public Works in June and go out to bid in July, according to a timeline presented by Public Works Director Bill Porter. Playground equipment might be in the ground by the end of the year.

"The bottom line for me is that I want the playground equipment in as soon as possible," said Common Council President Eric Meaux, who attended the Budget and Finance Committee meeting Tuesday.

Exactly what is pushing the playground over budget isn't understood - park officials still haven't seen the design plans.

The city's 2011 capital improvements budget allocates $800,000 for the design and construction of playground equipment, a picnic shelter and restrooms at the park, between 68th and 70th streets. However, with about 70 percent of the project design complete, architects from Engberg Anderson estimate the project will come in about $1.2 million.

Building only the playground equipment would cost about $400,000, while adding the site utilities for future construction of the shelter would increase the price tag to about $870,000, Porter said. By putting it out to bid, the hope is that the city can lock in pricing that would keep it within budget.

Several aldermen on the Budget and Finance Committee said they would prefer to install the utilities at the start of the project so the ground doesn't have to be torn up again, possibly impacting the playground equipment, when the shelter does go up. But they had trouble comprehending the costs.

Alderman Brian Ewerdt questioned what was in the plans and how many children were expected to use the equipment.

"To me $400,000 seems steep, but I don't know what we're paying for. How grandiose is it?" he said.

Ewerdt suggested designs could be scaled back because Hart Park wouldn't see the traffic found on a school playground, where hundreds of kids are playing at the same time.

Fellow committee member Alderwoman Kathleen Causier helped raise funds for Roosevelt Elementary School's playground. While it's been a few years, she had a hard time believing prices had skyrocketed since then.

Hartung Park, which opened last summer, cost $600,000 to build, including the landscaping costs, said Tom Ertel, Parks and Forestry Board president. At Christ King School, play equipment and a rubber pad underneath came in at $60,000. A general guideline is $1,000 is spent for every user, he said.

The kind of base - chips vs. rubber, whether it's handicapped-accessible, size and durability - is unknown to parks officials at this time, but all those considerations factor into pricing, Ertel said.

The Parks Board has been left out of the design discussions and didn't realize a shelter and utilities were part of the project, board member George Haas said.

It's the amenities beyond the play equipment that are really tipping the scales, but they would serve a purpose, said Alderman Michael Walsh, who serves on the Budget and Finance Committee, as well as liaison to the Parks Board.

Walsh also sits on the board of Tosa Tonight, which puts on a summer concert series and is marketing the Rotary Performance Pavilion neighboring the future playground. Renters have to arrange for portable toilets at this point because the restrooms under the stage are not open to the public, he said.

He acknowledged that the city hasn't communicated well with the Parks Board about the project and said the architect would present plans next week.

The kids don't care about the shelters, Meaux said. They just want a place to play and have fun. The extras are more for the parents and could come later as funding allows, he said. In uncertain budget times, waiting until the city can afford the entire project could mean no playground is built for several more years, he added.

There's an expectation by the many residents who have inquired about the status of the project that the city would either move back the original play equipment or have replaced it by now, Meaux said. The play structures had to be removed from Hart Park during a flood mitigation project a few years ago. That equipment was relocated to Eisenhower School.


WHAT: Parks and Forestry Board will learn about plans for Hart Park playground project

WHERE: Muellner Building in Hart Park, 7300 Chestnut St.

WHEN: 7:30 a.m. Tuesday


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