|Committee members frustrated by pavilion delays|
|Kerry Craig | News-Telegram Assistant Editor|
May 11, 2005 -- Construction of the equine pavilion at Hopkins County Regional Civic Center has still not begun and members of the Civic Center board and a special committee for the project have begun expressing frustration with the lack of progress.
While they feel the project will still be completed, committee members said this week they felt delays were the result of a lack of communication with the county's commissioners court.
Civic Center Board member Roy King said he was optimistic the project would proceed, but expressed his frustration at repeated delays from the commissioners court.
"I am optimistic we are going to get it done," he said. "It is frustrating at how long it takes, let me tell you."
Jonas Helm, who took a leadership role on the committee, cited communications and said he felt there had been some progress made on the project, but the progress has been slow.
"I think our main setback right now is we need a project manager, somebody that will take hold, get out there and get it built," Helm said. "I think the county is leaning toward that as somebody to take some of the risk off of their back."
Helm said a lack of communication from commissioners on the requirements for a project manager has been the main stumbling block.
"I tried to get them to explain to me the other day exactly what they are wanting out of a project manager, and it is hard to find somebody when you really don't know what you are looking for," Helm explained. "If we knew exactly what the county was expecting out of somebody and what liability they were supposed to take, I think we could go ahead and get somebody hired and get this thing done."
Commissioner Beth Wisenbaker, one of two commissioners appointed to the pavilion committee, said the specifics of an at-risk project manager was something that had not been addressed and brought the matter to the table in a committee meeting just last week.
"Just because you don't address an issue that was brought up eight months ago doesn't mean that it went away," she said. "It just means you haven't addressed it, that you have been addressing the other factors that needed to come first. I thought that, in the meeting the other day, we had come together with a good idea of what we need to do, but still, the final decision must come back to the commissioners court."
Committee member Dr. Bill Dietz said he felt the project took steps backward during last week's meeting.
"I think my frustration is that we are back to where we were a year ago," Dietz said. "The big delay has been caused by ... the [commissioners] court requested certain things be done and have really done nothing but delay the project for a year and increase the cost of the whole project."
Deborah Balkcom, who is also a member of the committee, said she could understand the concern of the county commissioners and their wanting to be careful in what they do and the potential for financial liability, but said all the Civic Center wants to do is just build a "barn."
"I don't think that there is a lot of risk in building this facility," she said. "We are not building a new civic center, we are building a barn, and I don't see that there is a lot of risk involved, and that is what frustrates all of us."
Funding for the 64,400 square-foot facility will come from $750,000 in certificates authorized by Hopkins County Commissioners earlier this year and have been approved by local banks, but Roy King said county commissioners must still initiate the bonds.
"The banks have approved it, the bonds are sitting here and are ready to fund," King said. "All we have got to have is approval."
Members of the committee also said repeated delays in getting a final go-ahead from the county on the project has resulted in an increase in cost of materials for construction of the facility, although they still think the project can come in within budget.
"With the increase in the steel price, it has increased about 35 percent just for steel," King said. "We have done some things different and made a few changes to try to take care of that and we think we are going to be real close to the $750,000."
Commissioner Wisenbaker said she did not think there were any unnecessary delays in the project, but cited "confusion with the hotel-motel tax, and that probably took two months to get straightened out."
The "confusion" required action by the city council to better specify who the Civic Center's share of the hotel occupancy tax is distributed to. Previously, the money had been paid to Civic Center Inc. A city resolution was required to direct the money to the county and dedicate it for Civic Center use.
The hotel occupancy tax is collected by the city and split between the Hopkins County Chamber of Commerce tourism bureau and the Civic Center, and that amount has been stable over the past several years, according to City of Sulphur Springs Finance Director Peter Karstens. He said the amount of money collected from the the hotel occupancy tax over the past five years has averaged just more than $170,000 per year, with half that amount -- $85,000 -- going directly to the Civic Center.
Roy King said the completion of the equine facility will boost the number of dollars collected through the hotel occupancy tax.
"We are going to increase the hotel-motel tax and increase revenues from the Civic Center," he said.
Wisenbaker said county precinct workers were ready to start dirt work on the project as soon as plans were approved by the city. When bids were opened and one accepted, the money would be released and the project could get under way.