WATERTOWN — The Syracuse company that designed the Thompson Park pool got paid $239,000, even though it now appears the project will never get off the ground.
In March 2018, C&S Companies, Syracuse, was selected from four engineering firms to design the pool and bathhouse project after the city was pleased with work related to the city’s two other outdoor pools years earlier.
Along the way, the city spent a total of $369,522 on the pool project to get to this point, including $114,000 for demolition of the 94-year-old pool and the design work completed by C&S.
It’s money that the city won’t get back whether the project moves forward or not.
With plans for bids to go out last November or December, changes in the scope of the long-debated project — from renovating the old pool and bathhouse to replacing them — led to more design work and delays in moving ahead.
And now some city officials are blaming the Syracuse firm for mishandling the controversial project that came in $700,000 over budget.
Councilman Cody J. Horbacz, a proponent of the pool project as early as 2013 and who campaigned for it, does not understand why it took C&S 18 months to get a financed project finally out to bid.
“They gave us two flawed designs that were not within budget,” he said. “It didn’t happen once. It happened twice.”
Councilman Horbacz is frustrated because he and council members Lisa A. Ruggiero and Ryan Henry Wilkinson were unable to approve the project last Monday night after learning they needed four votes to amend a $2.4 million bonding resolution.
In January 2018, city lawmakers were adamant that they would not spend a penny more than the $2.4 million set by the bond.
By doing so, council members locked themselves into that $2.4 million figure, even though some estimates had the project running between $2.5 million and $3 million, City Engineer Justin L. Wood remembered.
But Councilman Horbacz said former City Manager Sharon Addison, who opposed the pool project, insisted that the city wait to get design work started until there were the four needed votes for the bond.
It finally happened with the election of council members Ruggiero and Henry Wilkinson. The pool project was a major campaign issue for all three city lawmakers.
When they took office in January 2018, council had the four votes they needed and quickly took action in their first meeting to get it done, Councilman Horbacz said.
C&S was brought into the project in March 2018 after the city awarded a contract to renovate the pool and the bathhouse that closed after the 2013 season because of deteriorating conditions.
Just when it appeared the project was on its way to the bidding process last fall, the project ended up getting delayed.
In April of this year, council members were surprised to learn the project’s cost was going up to $2.8 million after being told just a few months earlier that the projections looked good going into the bidding process.
To get to $2.8 million, the bathhouse would get a less intricate HVAC mechanical system, fewer restrooms and showers, and the pool would be smaller.
C&S officials blamed some miscalculations, admitting that they “over designed” the project. As a result, they took design staff off the project and brought in new personnel.
After the reconfiguring, city officials thought the project was back on track.
“It’s clear they were telling us it was good to go and we weren’t,” Mayor Joseph M. Butler Jr. said.
In May, C&S reported to council that the cost would not exceed the $2.4 million mark after its engineers were forced to make further reductions to the project.
At that council meeting, John Trimble, president of C&S Companies, acknowledged the company underestimated some of the proposed amenities but “went back to the drawing board” to come up with a project “to fit your needs.”
He estimated construction costs for the new pool and bathhouse would be about $1.916 million, with the pool costing $716,000 and the building about $1.2 million.
But then the bids were opened on July 25 and they came in about $700,000 too high.
Council members Ruggiero, Henry Wilkinson and Horbacz found themselves not having enough votes to accept the $2,515,671 bids and use the city’s fund balance to make up the difference.
The project is now in limbo.
On Monday night, Mr. Trimble recommended rejecting the bid. He was surprised that the cost of the pool came in high, while the bathhouse portion of the project ended up where he thought it would be.
He also said that he did not think the bids would come in any lower if council members decided to rebid the project. Instead, he suggested expanding the 4,000-square-foot splash pad that opened last summer.
In explaining what went wrong, Mr. Trimble said his company “went back and forth with stakeholders” during the design process.
The comment confused Councilman Horbacz, Mayor Butler and Mr. Wood, they said afterward. They didn’t know what he meant by the remark.
The councilman surmised that it had something to do with the “powers that be” not supporting the project and trying to sabotage it.
On Thursday, Mr. Trimble explained that his firm had to work through several issues with the Parks and Recreation Department and the engineer’s office, while council members had their own expectations about the project.
Meanwhile, the state Department of Health had requirements for the number of restrooms and showers, causing concern about costs.
Citing the political nature of the project, he declined further comment, saying he didn’t feel comfortable about providing his take on what happened to get the city to this point.
“They were partially responsible for the delays,” Mayor Butler Jr. said.
At a work session on Monday night, council members will continue the discussion about the bids and where to go from here.
C&S officials will be there to answer questions, City Manager Rick Finn said.
From his perspective, Mr. Wood never questioned C&S’s integrity to get the job done and always wanted to provide the city with the best project that they could.
It was just difficult to get a $2.5 million to $3 million pool and bathhouse into that $2.4 million budget, he said.