Brookhaven City Councilmembers expressed surprise and concern at the $1.8 million price tag for proposed improvements to Murphey Candler Park and Georgian Hills Park – a total significantly more than estimated as part of last year’s parks master plan approval.

At the July 25 meeting, council members approved $600,000 to build a new 1.9-acre open field and walking trail at Murphey Candler Park. However, when the parks master plan was approved last year, the estimated cost of this project came in at $136,400.

“I know that estimating costs is not a perfect science, but that’s a pretty dramatic discrepancy,” Councilmember Linley Jones said of the nearly $455,000 increase.

The plan for the new open field at Murphey Candler Park. The price tag jumped from an estimated $136,000 last year to a low bid of nearly $600,000 this year. (City of Atlanta)

Metro Atlanta’s economy is currently strong and that affects bid prices by construction companies, said Parks and Recreation Director Brian Borden.

“When the economy is great, contractors aren’t as hungry to work. They can pick and choose the projects they want to do,” he said.

The council also approved a $1.2 million contract with Pro Building Systems for Phase I of the 3.6 acre Georgian Hills Park project that includes a sewer pipe replacement and construction of a half-court basketball court, a playground, a picnic shelter and redesigned parking.

The estimated cost last year for this phase of the master plan was roughly $500,000. The base bid approved July 25 was just over $807,000.

The Public Works Department is also requiring right of way and sidewalk improvements along Clairmont Road as part of this project to meet the mandates of the city’s bike and pedestrian master plan, so another $413,000 was added, bringing the total cost to $1.2 million, Borden explained.

Councilmember Joe Gebbia asked if significant cost increases are expected for other master plans and if anything can be done so the council is not “blindsided” by such cost discrepancies.

“Basically we’re seeing a doubling of our original cost estimates,” Assistant City Manager Steve Chapman said.

Borden said he was working with consultant GreenbergFarrow to come up with updated cost estimates for the 2018 budget.

Councilmember Bates Mattison said the city should take another look at capital projects “based on realistic numbers.”

“This highlights an issue we are going to have to face,” Mattison said. “If our master plan budgets are half of what they should be we need to take a wholesale look at all of this.

“I do think we need to look at our master plans. The last thing we want to do is tell people this is the cost and then have to go to the bank.”
Mattison also said the city should consider bringing project management in-house as a way to cut costs, rather than paying GreenbergFarrow for that work.

“Because of the number of projects we are doing now, I’d like to look at possibly bringing that role in-house, because while GreenbergFarrow had done an amazing job of design, I think they are an outsourced party that is expensive,” he said.

But Borden said he didn’t have the expertise that the contractor has. “If that’s the direction the council wishes to go we can certainly look at it, but in my professional opinion I would strongly oppose that,” he said. “They bring an added dimension to these projects … and are very knowledgeable about the parks construction process.”

Funding for the projects is coming out of the city’s Homestead Option Sales Tax (HOST) budget, minus $40,000 for the sewer pipe replacement that is being paid from the storm water fund.

The city’s HOST budget is more than $8 million, Chapman said. The council approved an approximate $1.8 million storm water fund as part of the 2017 budget.

The 2017 HOST funding amount approved for the Parks and Recreation Department includes $2.5 million for implementation of the parks master plan.

Both projects are expected to be completed in January 2018.

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