Orange County

Carrboro park just got a lot more expensive. What the aldermen decided to do.

A nearly $900,000 discrepancy between the engineer’s estimates for construction of a new park and the lowest bid has town leaders wondering what that could mean for future projects.

The Board of Aldermen voted 5-1 this week to cover the $841,000 difference between the estimate and the lowest of four bids for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park, bringing the total construction cost to nearly $2.2 million. Alderman Sammy Slade cast the dissenting vote.

The aldermen also approved by a 6-0 vote a legal notice to proceed with construction of the 10-acre park at 1120 Hillsborough Road. Both items had been on Tuesday night’s consent agenda, reserved for noncontroversial items, until Aldewoman Jacquelyn Gist pulled them for discussion.

Jacquie Gist
Jacquelyn Gist Submitted

“These are volatile economic times,” Gist said, “and I’m reluctant to enter into major financial projects in that kind of uncertainty. … I’m very concerned about the library project and how this is going to impact that.”

Gist noted that with the steel tariffs the Trump Administration has put in place, the cost of screws and other construction supplies has risen. She also noted that, with the unemployment rate dropping, labor costs are up.

But Alderwoman Bethany Chaney said the public has shown it wants the park, and with costs rising it would be better to go ahead and build it now.

Bethany Chaney
Bethany Chaney

“If we say we’re not going to build,” she said, “we won’t build because we’re not going to get anything cheaper. … We’ve been promising this park for years; we do have it in our policy.”

The town bought the land for the park in 1999, and there is a community garden there now. The plan calls for a pump track for bicycles and a multipurpose field, as well as a garden.

Several aldermen talked about building the park in phases, starting with the pump track, but while that would lower the immediate cost, it would raise the total price of the park.

Slade and Alderwoman Randee Haven-O’Donnell, however, argued that the pump track is in much more demand than the rest of the proposed park, so it would make sense to break it out and build it first. Town Manager David Andrews said that if the track was built separately, it would cost more than the $60,000 it will cost as part of the total bid for the park.

Gist remarked how the board often talks about housing affordability, and how property taxes needed to build the park and a proposed new library affect the cost of housing.

“You look at a million here and a million there,” she said. “What’s that impact on the property taxes?”

Barbara Foushee
Barbara Foushee Submitted

Alderwoman Barbara Foushee said the park has already been delayed and expressed a desire to move ahead with it.

“Are we going to pump the brakes on everything?” she asked. “We have other projects that are coming up, and we actually have agreed for this to move ahead. … If we’re going to stop this, what else are we going to stop?”

In response to a question from Alderman Damon Seils about why the engineer’s estimate for the cost of the park was so off, Andrews replied: “I’ve been in local government for 30 years, and you bid out contracts, and sometimes you hit it and sometimes you don’t.”

“That’s what it is, an estimate,” he said. “You find out what the real price is when you take it out to the market to bid.”