Splash pad drying up?

Pictured is a concept image for the Waterloo splash pad project at Zimmer Park off Rogers Street. 

It was recently revealed that the Waterloo Park District is currently $500,000 short in funds required to build the long-awaited splash pad.

This shortage, as well as other matters pertaining to the splash pad, was discussed at a Waterloo Park District Board meeting last Wednesday to discuss bids for the project.

Bids for this proposed splash pad at William Zimmer Park off Rogers Street were revealed at the Sept. 14 board meeting, with Litteken Construction of Breese submitting a bid for $1,538,600 and Fitzgibbons Contracting of Waterloo submitting a bid of $1,534,405.

Waterloo Park Board President Shelby Mathes opened the meeting noting the district’s $500,000 shortfall and explaining that Fitzgibbons had expressed willingness to uphold the bid while giving the board time to procure the funds.

“We have talked to the cheaper one of the two, and they will honor their bid for a 60-day extension because we do not have the funds to do what we need to do,” Mathes said.

Following the meeting, Waterloo Park Board Commissioner Michael Nolte stated that a 60-day extension is typical in these types of situations.

The board also discussed where the $500,000 might be obtained, with board members suggesting soliciting funds from the community and reaching out to the Waterloo City Council with the possibility of acquiring some of the city’s video gambling funds intended for beautification projects.

The board also entertained negotiations with Fitzgibbons as general contractor as well as the several subcontractors that would be involved in the project – though it was unclear at the time whether or not the board could discuss costs directly with subcontractors.

The possibility of donations – both labor and resources – from the community was also discussed.

Ultimately, the board elected to place both bids on hold for 60 days as they pursue public funding.

Nolte said work on the splash pad project first began in November 2019. Back then, projected costs were significantly lower than they are now.

“When we started the process, the initial estimate was $801,000 for the entire process,” Nolte said. “That would cover the construction, dirt work, concrete, building, all of that and also the equipment, the spray features in the splash pad area.”

The doubling of the project’s cost has occurred largely due to sharply increased labor and resource costs stemming from shortages and supply chain issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mathes explained that the board tried to save some money due to this foreseen cost increase by buying equipment earlier in the project. Previous equipment purchases as well as surveying and other architectural costs reached about $300,000.

“That’s why we went ahead and bought the equipment because right before COVID hit, it was that price,” Mathes said. “They said, ‘COVID’s hitting and we’re seeing the prices going up next month. The equipment will be 35-40 percent more,’ so that’s why we purchased the equipment.”

Altogether, the cost of this project is now expected to total about $1.8 million, including both the bid and already purchased equipment.

Discussing the possibility of reducing project cost where possible, Mathes said such cuts likely wouldn’t provide enough of a reduction and could also impact overall quality of the finished splash pad.

“If you cut corners then you don’t have the quality,” Mathes said. “They’re saying, ‘Put an asphalt roof versus metal.’ Well in the long run, metal’s going to be better for the community’s dollar.”

Mathes also said the board would likely require an additional $100,000 beyond the previously discussed $500,000 to purchase loungers and other amenities for the splash pad.

The board was originally able to procure an Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources totaling $400,000.

About $200,000 of that grant has currently been received, with the remainder to be awarded so long as progress on the project is made by June 2023.

It was mentioned at the meeting that should the board be unable to acquire the $500,000 needed to accept the bid this November, the project would effectively be closed and the equipment previously purchased would be sold to nearby communities working toward similar projects to hopefully recoup the cost.

Given the substantial amount of funds the board is now required to make up, Nolte commented on the possibility of the splash pad not coming together.

“This community is great, and I expect that reaching out to the community, we would be able to offset that difference, whether it’s from fraternal organizations or just the community itself,” Nolte said. “I am very confident that we can complete the project.”

Nolte also discussed the board’s plan to present at the Waterloo City Council meeting this coming Monday, Oct. 3, speaking positively about the project getting the help it needs from the city.

“We do have a great relationship with the city council, and working together on a project like this that benefits the whole community, I think, is smart and could be a potential way to solve our shortfall in funding,” Nolte said.

Mathes shared a similar hopeful sentiment on the status of the splash pad, noting the ability of Waterloo to come together for the sake of a community project.

“My hope is that the community will step forward and help us get this done because it’s a community thing, it’s not a personal agenda or anything,” Mathes said.

It’s currently unclear what effect the possible cancellation of the project could have on plans for a new Waterloo pool, as the two projects would potentially make use of the same planned bathhouse and water filtration system.

For further inquiries concerning the Waterloo splash pad, contact Mathes at 618-570-9734.

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Andrew Unverferth

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