Our Views: Right choice at Clinton Martin

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The North Hempstead Town Board did the right thing last week in voting unanimously to approve a $19.4 million bid for the main work in a $23 million overhaul of the Clinton G. Martin pool in New Hyde Park.

The renovation, expected to start in June and finish within a year, will resurface a 75,000-square-foot pool deck, expand the kiddie pool, renovate locker rooms, resurface the park’s tennis courts, overhaul the 55-year-old pool’s aging infrastructure, and add a water slide, spray features and shading structures.

There is no question about the why of the project. The pool is an important part of the New Hyde Park community and the overhaul was needed and necessary.

But the how — how the Town of North Hempstead evaluates the cost of the renovation — is another matter.

After more than a year in intense discussions with Clinton G. Martin Park District residents, trustees approved a plan earlier this year based on an estimated cost of $14.1 million for the construction.

The only problem is that when the only two bids were submitted, both were in excess of $19 million — $5 million more than expected. Including so-called “soft” costs, the number rose to $23 million.

It doesn’t take a math whiz to see how far off that is.

This difference did not sit well with park district members, whose roughly 13,000 residents will cover  the cost of the borrowing to pay for the project with increased property taxes. Some residents had expressed concerns during earlier discussions that the project’s cost would grow. Town officials assured them that it wouldn’t.

Cue the apologies and, depending on how you view them, explanations or excuses.

Town officials and Jason Pontieri of J.R. Holzmacher Engineering, the firm that made the cost estimates last year, expressed regret that the figures were so far off.

Pontieri said the estimates were based on the most recent available construction data, but officials cannot see what specific costs were higher until they award a bid.

Mitchell Pally, CEO of the Long Island Builders Institute, said cost estimates consider several factors that could have changed in the year since the first estimates were calculated.

And Long Island’s construction industry is “substantially stronger than it’s ever been,” driving up competition and costs, Pally said.

Still, an estimate of $14 million that ends up $5 million off — nearly 36 percent — is hard to fathom.

Residents and town council members were then faced with a choice: accept a bigger property tax increase, or solicit more bids to possibly get a cheaper price.

The pool construction was originally expected to increase median property taxes of residents of the Clinton G. Martin Park District — which covers North New Hyde Park, the Village of New Hyde Park, Garden City Park, Herricks and Searingtown — from $40 to $100. The additional $5 million required for construction raised that cost to $140.

Residents were divided but both they and council members were apparently swayed by town Supervisor Judi Bosworth’s argument that there was no guarantee that new bids would be any less expensive and seeking them would delay the project for a second summer.

“I just feel if we go any longer than the one season that we’re proposed now, we’re going to miss out on memories and people will start looking elsewhere” said Rob Spina, a resident, who presented a petition with 212 signatures supporting the project.

Give residents and council members credit. By our estimation, they made the right choice.

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