Plans for a veterans memorial park in downtown Brunswick may be going back to the drawing board.
A veterans memorial park was among many projects to be paid for by Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax 2016, approved by voters in the 2016 presidential election. The park was slated to get $1.5 million in SPLOST revenue.
A veterans memorial park committee came together in 2015 to hash out a vision for the park. They met regularly until designs were finalized in 2018. Architectural design firm TSW Design drew up the final plans and estimated it would cost around $1.7 million.
Glynn County’s finance committee met Tuesday to make a recommendation to the Glynn County Commission on whether or not it should award the park’s construction contract to Altamaha Building Systems of Surrency, among other things.
“We thought that number might have been high, might have had some Atlanta prices to it. The bids came in, we had three bids. One came in at 2.4 (million dollars), one was 2.6 (million dollars), (Altamaha Building Systems’) was 1.9 (million dollars),” Public Works Director Dave Austin told the committee.
When putting a SPLOST list together in 2016, Austin said all they had was an early concept with no actual prices attached.
“I actually don’t know how the million and a half (dollars) got on there. I don’t think there was a detailed (cost estimate) ... We didn’t really know what the scope of this was going to be,” Austin said.
The committee that helped design the park may have gotten a little carried away, he said.
“The concept came from the veterans team ... and then it kind of grew,” Austin said.
When the designs were finalized in 2018, the park committee and the Glynn County Commission asked for the park to be priced in a modular fashion. That way some parts could be cut if the whole came in over budget.
Austin explained that there weren’t any “big chunks” that could be cut without changing the whole design.
“What we saw when we did the initial review of the contract and the bid was there wasn’t a big chunk,” Austin said. “They were all little pieces and you just couldn’t say ‘Well we can cut $500,000 out here, we can cut $300,000 out here.’ It was 50 here or 100 here, and then we started looking at the meat and changing the design.”
Before he could make any sort of recommendation to the full county commission, committee member Allen Booker said he wanted the commission take a second look at an alternative proposal made by a member of the community last year.
In April 2018, local businessman Robert Torras provided the commission with a mock-up of a park featuring a smaller memorial and more parking. He estimated it would cost around $325,000 to build.
Booker, who also represents the city of Brunswick on the county commission, said the proposal could solve the issue of the park and provide more parking for downtown Brunswick.
“If it’s the same alternative proposal I saw, this was a proposal for a parking lot and there was a veterans memorial added to the parking lot,” said committee member Bill Brunson. “I think parking for 250 cars, if I recall, which is a stretch visiting the veterans memorial park.”
Parking in downtown Brunswick is one of the more important matters on his plate, Booker said.
“Parking downtown is an issue, so if we can solve it and do a great memorial to our veterans, then I’d like to look at doing that,” Booker said.
Committee member David O’Quinn was mostly concerned with the cost of the project.
“That’s a lot of money to be spending on a park, and to dip into (reserves) to pay for it, at least part of it, I have great concern about that ... It’s a lot of money,” O’Quinn said. “It’s almost 40 percent more than we told the taxpayers we were going to spend on it.”
He suggested looking for public-private partnerships or pieces that could be shaved off to reduce costs.
“Personally, parking doesn’t matter to me. It’s the amount, the cost,” O’Quinn said.
The county should get the veterans memorial park committee back together and look at changes to cut costs, he said.
Austin could have cut the project cost by removing features or changing materials used in its construction, but changing too much would impact the park as a whole, according to David DeLoach, Public Works’ field engineering division manager.
“You can’t take one particular color out of that paint scheme and take it away because it impacts the totality of the picture,” DeLoach said. “There’s a lot of granite in there that’s a high-priced item, but it’s the solitude and the quintessentials of being in a place that’s sacred. You can’t replace that with stucco or rubble. We can’t VE, value-engineer, one item out of this that won’t impact the entirety of the feel they’ve garnished in this package. It’s going to be difficult to change the picture and bring the dollar value down.”
O’Quinn said once again that the park seemed “ripe for a public-private partnership.” Brunson, however, said they wouldn’t be able to bring in the kind of money they’d need that way.
County Manager Alan Ours said it would be appropriate for the commission to discuss the park further at a work session.
“Whether or not we should pursue a public-private partnership, whether or not we should add more parking, whether or not we should downscale the project and how we should downscale the project, whether or not we need to go back to the veterans committee and get more input, there’s a lot of factors in that,” Ours said.
All three agreed the county commission should talk about it at its June 18 work session before taking any official action and voted 3-0 to defer it.
“I don’t think there’s anything we can do for this community that’s going to be more meaningful than this veterans memorial park,” Brunson said.
The committee also recommended the county commission, among other things:
• Hire ADM Smith of Atlanta to conduct a countywide transportation plan update and St. Simons Island traffic study.
• Renew its property and liability insurance with the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia for $771,574 for the fiscal year 2019-2020, a 17 percent increase over the last fiscal year.
• Pay contractor Allen and Graham $179,988 to fix structural issues in the Glynn County Police Department’s headquarters.
• Transfer $97,000 into the Glynn County Detention Center’s inmate medical services budget.
The finance committee’s next meeting is scheduled for July 23.