The MLK Community Center was a staple in the community. When it was demolished in November Plant City was promised a state of the art, approximately 30,000 square foot facility would replace it. The cost to make that a reality, however, caught the city by surprise.
When the concept was unveiled for the new community center in 2018 the city approved accepting the design and the estimated cost of $3,860,114. The old facility was demolished and the city began seeking bids from construction companies to bring the concept to life.
Fourteen bids came in on Feb. 21 and not a single one of them was even remotely close to the estimated cost. The highest bid was from a company called Foresight who was asking for $7,119,000.
The lowest bid was AGF Alliance Design & Construction, who asked for $5,304,000. AGF, however, was disqualified because they did not provide a bid bond, meaning the most responsible bidder was Trias Construction at $5,959,715. Going forward would put the city approximately $2.5 million over budget.
The commissioners were floored.
They were told there were a variety of reasons the cost was astronomically higher than what was originally expected. There is currently a shortage of skilled labor, materials cost more than they did a year ago and the increase of construction throughout the county has led to a major supply and demand issue.
Due to the drastic change the city asked several construction companies to explain what’s going on in the industry and the response was all the same. There’s too many projects and not enough workers leading to the inevitable rise of costs across the board.
Commissioners were faced with a tough decision. Do they approve the $2.5 million addition to the original budget or do they go back to the drawing board and attempt to start again?
“I’ve been involved in numerous and numerous projects over my career of building stuff and this is the worst I’ve seen of an architect coming in with an estimation, but we’re in crazy times too,” Commissioner Mike Sparkman said. “Just look around at what’s happening in Florida now with the boom, so I concur with this. I think we’ve done everything, we got caught by surprise so we have to either abandon the idea, turn around and run or we just have to face up and five to 10 years down the road we’ll say, ‘We’re glad we did that.’”
His sentiment was echoed by all at the dais.
Vice Mayor Nate Kilton also voiced his frustration, but added the fact that all 14 bids were saying the same thing meant this was an inevitable issue for the city. If they went back and started again they’d face similar, if not larger, costs unless they were willing to heavily reduce the quality of the project. He ended his comments by saying anything but moving forward is not serving the community.
Though caught off-guard, Plant City is in a unique place when it comes to finding a way to fund the center. Unlike so many other governments, Plant City is relatively debt free. It wasn’t a question of borrowing funds, but rather of moving existing funds around to cover the difference.
By taking $200,000 from the streets funds to build the parking lot, $490,000 from CIT residual funds, $600,000 from the Community Redevelopment Agency and $1,210,000 from the city’s reserves, the entire $2.5 could be acquired without having to borrow a single penny.
In the end they all agreed the community center would remain a shining star for Plant City. It would serve all residents in town and they would regret even considering bringing a lesser facility to creation when they knew they could afford the original plan.
“The community is going to end up with a facility unlike any other,” City Manager Bill McDaniel said. “Plant City has always had the reputation of being fiscally sound. When times are tough we tighten our belt, sometimes we have to cut to the bone, but we do what we have to. Then when times like now come along and we’re doing OK, we have the option available to do what we did (Monday) night. Will it always be this way? Absolutely not. It’s a cycle, but I’m pleased we were able to pull this off.”
The timeline is for construction to be completed in May 2020 with a ribbon cutting in June 2020.