The city council approved a 2.9-percent increase to the $3.2 million contract to renovate Overlook Park at the Great Falls National Historical Park. The increase amounts to $92,000 for Applied Landscape Technologies of Highland Park, according to municipal records.
Municipal officials said the funds are needed pay for the removal the concrete footing 6-8 inches below grade, an unforeseen discovery that was made during the course of demolition of the parking lot, by chopping, cutting, and excavating the upper parking lot.
Some council members questioned the cost increase before narrowly passing a measure approving the change order last week.
“This is way too much money to be spending. We’re not going to see any return on this,” said Michael Jackson, 1st Ward councilman, a perennial critic of spending funds to create a tourist attraction at the Great Falls. “I think we’re being taken to the cleaners on this job.”
The concrete footings remained in the ground following the demolition of the Steam Plant at the site in 1960, said Gianfranco Archimede, director of Historic Preservation Commission. He said in 1964 the site was paved to create a parking lot.
Archimede said the parking lot remained untouched since it was created. The parking lot was not done in the right manner some decades ago, he said.
“This project needs to replace the parking lot in the proper way,” said Archimede.
Jackson thought it unnecessary to remove the concrete from the ground to resurface the parking lot.
“Why do we need to remove 12 inches of concrete to pave it over?” asked Jackson. “We’re going to dig up something that’s not causing any issues.”
Jackson asked whether a municipal engineer reviewed the contractor’s recommendation. Archimede said the city’s architect on the project, ETM Associates of Highland Park, reviewed the recommendation.
“The proposed work is necessary to complete the installation of a new asphalt parking lot and rain garden at Overlook Park. The work is necessary to complete the installation and the contractor cannot proceed without completing concrete removal,” wrote E. Timothy Marshall, principal of ETM Associates.
“58 years we had this parking lot. What if we continue to pave, just like we had it. What are the consequences? Why is it necessary? For 58 years it wasn’t necessary,” said Al Abdelaziz, 6th Ward councilman. “I’d like to know my options.”
William McKoy, 3rd Ward councilman, thought the explanation provided is too scant. Some council members wanted the architect, who is overseeing the construction, in the project to answer their questions.
“We expected a detailed explanation,” said McKoy. He called the documentations presented “light” and “weak.” He said change orders have to be scrutinized closely because contractors use it as a backdoor to “beef up” their payments.
Mayor Andre Sayegh’s administration pushed to get the change order on the council’s agenda because the governing body has one meeting in August. His administration did not want the construction project, which started last summer, to be delayed.
Archimede said the project is scheduled for completion in September.
“We wanted to proceed with this project that’s why I allowed it on the agenda,” said council president Maritza Davila. She said the unforeseen issue was first mentioned in a memo dated Aug. 7. “Time is money. Construction delays cost the public money.”
Davila noted the change order is covered by a state grant. Archimede said state Green Acres funds are paying for the change order.
“This is the first change order,” said Flavio Rivera, councilman at-large. He said it is not uncommon for large construction projects, like the renovation of Overlook Park, to have several change orders.
The council approved the change order in a 5-4 vote on Tuesday night.
Council members Shahin Khalique, Luis Velez, Al Abdelaziz, Davila, and Rivera voted in favor while Jackson, Lilisa Mimms, Ruby Cotton, and McKoy voted against.
Cotton at first voted in favor, but changed her vote after Jackson attacked the project and the change order.
The council put off a vote on increasing the contract for ETM Associates. Under the change order, the firm’s contract goes up by 28-percent or $13,256. Its original contract was for $47,668, according to municipal records.
“I’m not even going to consider that,” said McKoy of the second change order. Putting off the change order for the architectural firm won’t delay construction at Overlook Park, said municipal officials.