Editorial: Town pool project gives us a sinking feeling

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Editorial: Town pool project gives us a sinking feeling
Residents enter the renovated pool on opening day of 2018. (Photo by Rebecca Klar)

We are beginning to get a sinking feeling about the Town of North Hempstead’s renovation of the Clinton G. Martin pool in New Hyde Park.

Town officials reopened the pool in June 2018 with much fanfare, expressing pride that the much-needed renovation was completed on time.

“We are elated that the newly renovated pool is completed in time for the 2018 summer season,” Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth said in a news release at the time. “I believe that the residents of the park district will be very pleased with their new facility.”

But that wasn’t exactly true.

When town officials unveiled a new water slide, kiddie pool and diving boards last year, the pool was made available to the public, but the project was not complete.

Last year, we learned, a fire alarm and fire sprinkler system had yet to be installed at the time of the pool’s opening. That prompted the Nassau County fire marshal’s office to issue a violation the day before the June 30 opening and recommend that the pool not open.

The pool opened anyway with additional manpower assigned to provide a “fire watch.”

A month later, Assistant Chief Fire Marshal Michael Uttaro reported that while progress had been made, the systems were still not complete and ready for approval.

“Being over a month into the pool operating and this issue still isn’t resolved, that’s a little bit surprising,” Uttaro said.

Now a year later we have learned that work on the project may still not be complete. And that the cost of the project, which the town at first had said would be $15 million, may have risen to $23 million or more.

How do we know this?

On May 8, Public Works Commissioner Paul DiMaria sent a letter to the project contractor, Wantagh-based Gramercy Group, informing the company that the town planned to declare it in default because the project was not completed on time and work still had to be done.

Town spokeswoman Carole Troterre said the town was withholding $1.97 million from the contractor because of these claims.

Gramercy lawyer Michael McKenna said the town’s claim was a “ruse” intended to avoid paying off changes the town made as the project was winding up last spring because of “funding issues.”

McKenna said the town has yet to pay Gramercy Group $1.5 million for 25 change orders it issued to the company once the project was complete.

Gregg Jenkinson, Gramercy’s vice president, said the changes were the result of poor work by the project’s designer and mismanagement of the project by the town.

Jenkinson also alleged in a letter that DiMaria had said he would only pay Gramercy an “arbitrary” number – $950,000 – for the changes to avoid  “political repercussions” to him and Bosworth.

The allegations raise several questions.

Was Bosworth aware of the change orders? Were town council members also aware of the change orders? Is all the work completed?

And more importantly, why weren’t all town residents made aware of the issues surrounding the project?

Town officials said information about construction issues was limited to a park advisory committee since only members of the New Hyde Park Special Park District used and paid for the pool. The district is made up of roughly 13,000 residents and covers North New Hyde Park, the Village of New Hyde Park, Garden City Park and Searington.

We think all town residents should have been made aware of the work undone and the project’s rising cost.

When the project was presented to residents served by the pool in the spring of 2017, town officials said the work would cost $15 million, which they picked over a $9 million plan to revamp the aging infrastructure.

The $15 million renovation of the aging facility grew when the town accepted a $19.4 million bid from Gramercy Group to do the work. Which later grew to a $21 million contract and a total cost of $23 million.

It is unclear if the $1.5 million claimed by Gramercy is part of the $23 million price tag.

At a minimum, all town residents deserve answers on the project’s costs, overall management of the project and apparent lack of transparency once construction began.

That transparency might now be provided in bankruptcy court.

Gramercy filed for bankruptcy shortly after the town announced it was withholding the $1.97 million. McKenna said the bankruptcy filing was a result of the town’s withholding of money and an “adverse judgment” in a lawsuit Gramercy has been involved in since 2016.

But he said the company is not liquidating. Instead, it is operating as a debtor in possession – meaning it can still keep some of its contracts and collect debt with the assistance of an appointed bankruptcy trustee.

There is no question Gramercy Group will seek to regain the full debt the Town of North Hempstead owes the company, he said.

And, he said, Gramercy’s claim is closer to $2.7 million rather than the $1.97 million being withheld by the town because of the changes the contractor was ordered to complete beyond the contract.

In the meantime, work on the pool appears to remain undone. Not exactly something for town officials to celebrate but much for residents to question.

 

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