Fort Lauderdale City Commissioners approved to add $2.1 million in costs for the new aquatic center Tuesday night. The center is already costing the city roughly $33.7 million. The contractor, Recreational Design and Construction Inc., were hired to build a complex over the old one, which has sat on the Intracoastal Waterway on Seabreeze Boulevard for 50 years, and was the location for the International Swimming Hall of Fame until losing it to California. The new proposed project would include two olympic-sized pools, a diving area, and a parking garage.
The project has been fraught with delays since commissioners approved the contract bid in 2012. These delays are the reason RDC has upped the request of the price tag, claiming that the market for concrete has gone up significantly over the years. RDC originally proposed a price increase of $3.6 million, but an independent study by the city calculated that the price would be $2.1 million, based on national figures.
Commissioners voted to approve the price increase by a vote of 3-2, with Commissioners Dean Trantalis and Romney Rogers opposing. Trantalis said that he doesn't think tax payers should be stuck with all the costs. The Sun-Sentinel reports that Mayor Jack Seiler encouraged otherwise reluctant commissioners to go along with the price increase.
Tony Abbate, a professor at FAU's School of Architecture, and chairman of the Beach Redevelopment Board, did not attend Tuesday's meeting, but told New Times prior to the meeting that prices were going to go up.
"The project's contract presents problems," he says. "In my review of the contract, the city is supposed to comply with the master plan for the beaches. In particular, that there be no parking garage visible from the Intracoastal, which this project clearly has. The project has progressed on its own, and the costs seem to be escalating."
And now more delays may come since RDC has yet to agree with the commissioners' latest figure. They've also indicated that that costs may go up even more as the project gets closer to kicking off.
And that's not including other not-so-obvious costs, which Abbate sees as a potential issue.
"In the long term, you’re still looking at high maintenance costs," he says. "You’re on the beach, where there are rust issues, and weather issues."
Abbate added that he's been for an aquatic complex all along, but that he raised red flags for the city to take notice.
"I feel uncomfortable giving my 100 percent endorsement," he says. "However it all ends up."
The city has long envisioned a new complex replacing the old. The former swimming center had its grandstands condemned in 2011, and in need of serious repairs. The antiquated pools at the facility have also failed to meet competition standards, and the city has lost more than $1 million a year maintaining the complex. The complex also lost the Swimming Hall of Fame to a swimming center in Santa Clara, California.
At least one commissioner, Bruce Roberts, said on Tuesday that wants to see RDC take up some of the costs themselves. Roberts voted for the increase.
Opponents of the complex who spoke at the meeting expressed concern over the way the project has been handled from the get-go. Residents, like Sadler James, said they'd like to see the contract thrown out and have other contractors re-bid for the right to build the new complex. James says he's asked the Florida Attorney General's Office to investigate the handling of the bidding process for the contract.
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By law, three bids are required before a contract can be rewarded. Fort Lauderdale went ahead and awarded the contract to RDC, even though they were the only ones who submitted a bid.
In 2013, the Broward Inspector General found that the city violated state law in the way they handled the bid.
"I think there could have been more research," Abbate says. "Unfortunately, these kind of things just slipped by."