The effects of Hurricane Katrina and the other storms that devastated the Gulf Coast are being felt right here in Forest Park. With construction costs soaring due to the demand for building materials, the Park District’s Five Year Comprehensive Plan threatened to go over budget. A special meeting was held on February 16 so that the board could address this unexpected spike in expenses.

The Park District had already solicited bids for the five-year renovation but they came in much higher than expected, adding $80,000 to $90,000 to the cost of the project. Scott Triphan W-T engineering and Joe Brusseau of Brusseau Design Group proposed rejecting these bids and lowering costs by modifying the plan.

The project was originally budgeted to cost $2,222,350 over five years.

First they recommended that a construction manager be hired to oversee the multi-million dollar project. Although this would appear to add a salary, the engineers believe the manager will more than offset this expense. They suggested that the manager could obtain lower bids, be responsible for job safety and keep the project on schedule.

Their new plans also included changing the work schedule, to consolidate all the scaffolding work on the main building, located at 7501 Harrison St., into the project’s second year. This work will include tuck pointing, stonework and repairing the veranda, which has developed a leak.

A new entryway lobby, elevator tower, handicapped accessible restrooms, offices and board meeting room will also be added on the east side of the administration building during Year 2.

Plans for the building also include adding a 42-inch high safety handrail system to create an observation deck and outdoor meeting area overlooking the aquatic center.

The engineers also recommended scaling back slightly on their plans for Building 4, where the Park holds its Day Camp. Instead of replacing the drywall, they proposed repairing and painting it for a savings of $3,000. They also plan to patch the nine-year-old roof rather than replace it.

Still, Triphahn believes residents will be impressed with improvements to the building, which include replacing the carpeting with colorful floor tiles. Plans also call for a renovation of the building’s restrooms to comply with the specifications of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“The public will say, ‘Wow, this is a brand new building.'”

For their part, the Park District will help lower costs by supplying some “sweat equity.” Park employees will be performing some of the demolition work on Building 4 during March. The Park will also contract the tuck-pointing and installation of awnings, which will be cheaper than including these costs in the Comprehensive Plan.

This “hands-on” approach will really pay off with the new Skate Park, Park District officials say. It will contain $80,000 worth of equipment, instead of $60,000, because Park employees are doing the assembly.

At the end of the hour-long meeting, the Park Board voted to reject all the bids they’ve received, to put off work on Building 1 to Year 2 and approve a new construction schedule for Building 4.

New bids are already being solicited and the engineers plan to start construction on April 27th.

Espinosa returns to Park Board

At the Park Board’s regular meeting last week, former board member Mike Espinosa was welcomed back to serve out the term of Greg Kolinek.

After fifteen years of service to the Park, Kolinek is moving out of town.

Espinosa was selected because he had been the next leading vote getter in the election. More importantly, officials said, Espinosa is already very knowledgeable about the comprehensive plan; so it won’t take him long to get up to cost-cutting speed.

Espinosa, who was initially elected to the board in 1999, received 475 votes in last year’s Park Board election, but was replaced on the board by Roy Sansone, who received 487 votes.

He has also served as vice president and treasurer for the Forest Park Youth Soccer Association and was a member of the village’s Plan Commission from 1998 to 2004.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.