Community Center - let's do it, together

Dear Islanders;

You can run faster alone, but farther together. It’s an old saying. But like many old sayings, it holds a great deal of truth. 

The board now all agrees that they want a community center.

After initial resistance, the board now unanimously agrees that we need a community center. We have received much positive public input on the idea. So much in fact, that everyone seems eager to claim ownership for the center—before it’s even built . . . or designed! The reality is that the record speaks for itself. No one has put the idea of a community center on any town agenda for years until I went to the public last year with the idea. The last time anyone talked about a Community Center publicly was in the early 90s. 

This is a big deal for Grand Island residents—now and for generations to come.  We need to do it right.  There is no need to rush this.

We need a feasibility study

A feasibility study is exactly what it sounds like. A way to see if a community center is even, well “feasible.” During that process everything is put on the table, and we gather community input. After all that, we can come up with ideas for the design and put out an RFP or “request for proposal.” The reason we can’t rush forward with an RFP now is simple. We have had no thorough community input and don’t really know what we need/want yet. How can we ask a professional company to design a community center before we know what YOU want to have in it? A few drawings on a napkin after some guesswork by town employees is not adequate. 

We can’t use the Veteran’s Park Shed as a precedent. 

“Thou protest too much” is the line from Hamlet. It simmers on my tongue at every board meeting where someone goes through much effort to defend the Shed at Vet’s Park. Even the board members who executed that deal recognize it could have been done better. Heck, the developer came into Town Hall to offer a check for a few grand to apologize at one point. People can argue the opposite, but look into the facts. When was the land optioned? How did the deal come together? Better yet, ask another developer how much they think that building should have cost or if they were aware of the RFP. 

I’m forced to bring this up again because the Shed keeps getting offered as some precedent that we should follow. I’ve had a councilman go on the record with impassioned displays about how the Shed RFP was a perfect process that we should replicate. Those speeches make me very, very nervous—especially since I’m the one signing the checks now. Instead of trying to rewrite history, I have a better idea. Let’s leave that whole Shed mess behind us and hit reset. 

One thing they did right with the Bedell shed however, is design something before they went out to RFP. We could do that because we knew how big our parks are, how many employees we have, and how many fields we need to maintain. We can’t do that for the community center. Because unlike the Shed, it will be more than a pole barn or a glorified lawn mower garage. A community center is a much more complicated structure and the whole community will be using it— not just a few employees. We need to do the hard work to define it—together.

We got off track after the RFQ

Lest we forget, we already did an RFQ. An RFQ (request for quote) is slightly different than an RFP. The purpose of the RFQ was to find companies who are capable of designing such an immense project and to get their input on how to proceed. After that process, we came out of it with one clear answer—DO A FEASIBILITY STUDY. Every architect and engineer we spoke to said the same thing.

But the concern was that the feasibility study cost too much. I agreed. We received several rather hefty quotes. But we went back to the parties—one of whom was the party that we hired (after my office applied for and received grant money) to help produce our Master Plan. And realizing that most of the work needed for the Community Center feasibility study was already being done for the Master Plan, they agreed to roll it into what they are already doing— at no cost. It’s a great deal. And there is no funny business. All they have to do is add a few extra questions on the surveys already being done. My office negotiated this deal in good faith and the people we have working on the Master Plan are good, qualified, and professional folks. 

Thankfully, we have come to our senses.

Frankly, I am astounded that anyone would be against performing a feasibility study before an RFP. After much debate, some claimed recently that they want BOTH the release of the RFP and a feasibility study to happen at the same time. Anyone with any business sense knows you don’t purposefully waste the time of the architectural firms who would be responding to the RFP by asking them to spend time and money to ‘wing it’ and design something that hasn’t been defined yet. 

In the world of professional bidding, RFPs do not go out until they are thoroughly vetted. Blue ribbon panels are put together. Data is analyzed. Other community’s forms and structures are compared. ‘Outside of the Box’ options are delved into. Now you all know, I like things done lickety-split. Our feasibility study will take a few months. But it will look at ALL of the options. We need to do this. 

Thankfully, reasonableness prevailed at our last Town Board meeting and a motion to put the cart before the horse and do an RFP first failed. We will do a feasibility study. And we will proceed in the normal process that public works projects are done, i.e. where the Town has two separate agreements with a designer and a contractor. We should not put out an RFP where someone comes forward with a design that they created AND that they propose to build. That is nothing short of criminal. We need transparency. We need control. We need to be fiscally smart. And most importantly, we need to design this—together, as a town. 

Sure, a few councilmen could do it faster alone. But we will go farther and do it better—together. 

With highest regards,