La Center to move ahead with Holley Park project

Council votes to proceed despite low bid coming in $87,000 over planned budget

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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LA CENTER — A popular La Center park will receive an ambitious renovation despite the low bid for the project coming in more than $87,000 over budget.

For more than a year, the city has slated turning Holley Park into the home of a skate spot, spray park and expansive playground area, but money has stood in the way. Citing a budgeted price tag of around $370,000, the city has twice attempted to bring project costs down to that level.

But failing that, the La Center City Council voted 4 to 1 Wednesday to move forward with a contract with Vancouver-based Colf construction, even with the $87,000 cost overrun. Councilor Greg Thornton was the lone no vote; Councilor Elizabeth Cerveny abstained from voting.

Thornton called the $87,000 a "big chunk of money," adding that maybe the entire project was too big for a city of La Center's size. The city has fewer than 3,000 residents.

With two bids coming in over budget, Mayor Jim Irish said the original price estimate may have been too low. The city has already spent around $80,000 on consultant fees to design the project.

Jeff Sarvis, the city's public works director, said he was confident contractors would not exceed the bid amount.

"We tried to get the project the people wanted and the bids just came back too high," he said.

The city will now have to dip into its budget reserves to cover the cost overruns, which is a cause of concern for some.

Interim Police Chief Erin Nolan, speaking as a resident, voiced concerns about spending unbudgeted money during a year when the budget promises to be extremely tight.

"It seems puzzling to me that, $87,000 short, it seems OK to spend that," she said.

The city had planned to break ground on the park project last year. But when the low bid for the project came in $188,000 over what the city had budgeted last spring, city officials decided to rebid the project.

Councilor Kristine Carmona, who voted to move forward with the project, said the city had made a commitment to residents to complete the project this year and should not be surprised that bids didn't match expectations.

"This is like being promised a Jaguar for $15,000 and being shocked when it's not $15,000," she said.

Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517; http://www.twitter.com/col_smallcities;tyler.graf@columbian.com.