Attorney Foreman’s report on the Community Center/Evacuation Center and decisions made at the February 9th meeting

Attorney Joel E. Foreman stated that he has been meeting with Ms. Vanessa George, Town Manager.  Their meetings have been very constructive.  They have discussed numerous issues and recently have had a Charter Workshop as reported on the White Springs Journal.

Attorney foreman has really worked diligently on Town Affairs.  At the February 9th Council meeting Attorney Foreman provided his report on the Community Center/ CDBG Grant 19DB-ON-03-34-02-NH:

 

JORDAN & ASSOCIATES NORTH FLORIDA PROFESSIONAL SERVICES.

On January 13, 2021 Ms. George and Mr. Foremen met virtually with the representatives from Jordan & Associates (Ms. Baker) and North Florida Professional Services (Mr. Bishop) regarding the Town’s performance and readiness under the above-referenced Community Development Block Grant.  The purpose of this meeting was to bring the two up to speed on this project and it appeared to be significantly behind schedule.  Jordan & Associates, is the grant administrator for this project and North Florida Professional Services is performing the engineering work associated with completion of a community center under the grant.

BACKGROUND:

 

From the grant documentation:

 

The Town of White Springs applied to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) for a FFY 2017 Small Cities Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) of $600,000 in the Neighborhood Revitalization category.  The Town requested funding to construct a new 3,750 square foot Community Center and park features as well as pay related administration and engineering fees.  The Town has been awarded this Grant.

Service Area #1:   The town will use CDBG funds to construct a 3,750 square foot Community Center with necessary site development.  Improvements to the site may include but, will not be limited to:  construction of a two-lane driveway with a turning lane; construction of a parking lot with a minimum of (20) parking spaces,; construction of sewer and water connections to serve the Community Center building, and construction of a minimum 1/3 acre storm water pond with accoutrements.  All construction activities will be completed on Town property located east of Willie Johnson Street, south of Suwannee Street Extension and north of Mill Street.  Estimated construction cost is $486,485.00.

Unaddressed Need:  Should additional funds become available, the Town will increase the size of the proposed Community Center from 3,750 square feet to 5,000 square feet and/or install an onsite backup generator to create a temporary shelter during hazardous weather events.  Estimated construction cost is $650,600.00.

The National Objective to benefit low and moderate income persons will be realized as over 51% of the persons living in each of the Service Areas meet the low and moderate income requirements.

Leverage:  The Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners will provide site preparation services to include the demolition and safe removal of the old carver school buildings.  Site preparation activities will begin after the Town receives environmental clearance and the release of funds from DEO.  The estimated cost to provide those in-kind services are $160,700.00.

The Town participates in the National Flood Insurance Program.  Proposed construction start and completion dates are anticipated to be within twenty-four (24) months of the award date.

The grant was awarded on December of 2018 in the amount of $600,000 to engineer, design and construct a community center, inclusive of all professional services, site development, and grant admission.

The grant included a series of deadlines, all of which are few of which have been met.  There are financial consequences to delay, including the loss of grant funds calculated per month of unmet deadlines.   It is unclear whether these penalties will be enforced due to the onset of the pandemic and various agency responses to these challenges.  Ms. George and Attorney Foreman have learned:

  1.  According to Mr. Bishop, the biggest challenges to the engineering of the project have been significant delays in making and relaying decisions related to the design work.  For example:

a.  The engineer states that his services were not formally retained for approximately six months after the award date.

b.  The project has been moved from the site of the “Old Carver School” to the adjacent Town land.

c.  Once relocated, the project was again relocated from the SE corner to the NW corner of the same parcel.

d.  The Town also modified the plan from a Community Center to an evacuation shelter, taking “three to four months” to make that decision and relay it to the engineer.

e.  Environmental review was completed, but because the prior management did not relay changes to the engineer in time, some of that review may be in applicable to the current plans and specs and will have to be redone.

2.  Generally speaking the Town has been slow to commit to changes, so in addition to the extra time necessary to address the requested changes, the engineer was frequently waiting to hear back from the Town so he would know how to proceed.  All of this has resulted in the design work being slowed to the point, we are only now in position to discuss bidding for the work to be performed.

3.  According to Ms. Baker, it is advisable to request an extension from the state.  The pandemic has created significant delays at all levels of government and the state may be inclined to afford additional time to complete the work under the grant.  She did not guarantee or promise the Town would be granted additional time but felt optimistic one could be granted.

4.  Even with the extension, the Town is significantly behind schedule on this project.  If the state opted not to extend and enforce the terms of the grant agreement, substantial amounts of funding may be deducted from the grant award.

5.  The project is already approximately $100,000 over budget due to indecision, delays and changes.

6.  If the Town chooses to avoid the grant agreement and so notifies the state, Ms. Baker is of the opinion the town will experience little to no negative consequences other than having to pay the costs the Town has incurred to date.

7.  If the town chooses not to proceed with this project at this time, the plans that have been prepared will still be available to the Town for later use allowing for some modifications for location or code changes.

It was stated at the February 9th meeting that it is imperative that the Council provide Ms. George with firm, immediate and decisive direction for the future of this project.   If the Council wishes to proceed as planned, the requests for extension must be filed immediately.  If the Council wishes to discontinue or relocate the Community Center project, that decision should be relayed to Jordan & Associates so the grant can be wrapped up and decisions can be made about applying in the next rounds of grant funding (the state is currently two cycles behind so there are opportunities to make new applications)

DISCUSSIONS AT THE FEBRUARY 9TH MEETING:

All the aforementioned aspects were explained verbally by Attorney foreman along with his report provided to those in attendance.  As Attorney Foreman stated, the Design Work is valuable and doesn’t need to be redone.  The design can move anywhere.  The Town will be on the hook for the expenses incurred and may just place the item on the shelf for the future.  

Ms. Baker has the file out for an extension.  However there are penalties for the delay.  For instance a one month delay could serve a penalty of $1,000, meaning there would be only $594,000 left for the six month delay.  Because of the pandemic, we can get Tallahassee to extend the contract because they are two cycles behind.  We could get it covered in the next grant cycle after paying the expenses incurred up to this point.

To avoid going forward Ms. Baker feels there would be no negative consequences except to pay the incurred expenses.  Because of the Pandemic, most likely no one will get penalized.  The plans will still be available for five or ten years out.  Attorney Foreman stressed that the Town Council needed to give an answer at this February 9th meeting.

Also in the event we change locations for the Community Center, the State may require that the grant be reapplied for. Acting Mayor Anita Rivers indicated that the Town has other land including 75 acres (Barnett Tract) as well as land by the Water Plant on Woodpecker Road.

COUNCILS DECISION:

A motion was made and approved 3-0 that the Town shall move to secure an extension in order to go forward on the building of the community center.

A motion was made and approved 3-0 that the Town shall reconsider another site for the Community Center in view of the fact that the current Carver site has constraints in allowing emergency vehicles on a one lane road to provide evacuations and emergency services.  Whether this will prohibit the existing grant to go forward by reason of the change in location will have to be seen.