WAVERLY – The Waverly Aquatic Center project had been on a roll.
After two years of pandemic-hindered fundraising, the project in recent months was let for bids, received $250,000 from the Lancaster County Board of Commissioners and launched a matching donation program through Horizon Bank that could total up to $100,000 toward the project’s overall cost. The Waverly City Council and the Greater Waverly Area Foundation Fund (GWAFF) had their eyes set on a July 2023 grand opening.
Bids came in higher than expected – the project’s engineer estimated the cost at $6,000,000, and of the four bids the City received, the lowest bid was for $6.4 million.
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At the Waverly City Council’s July 12 meeting, the council postponed a vote to award a bid from Kansas-based Carrothers Construction. In the next two weeks, they planned to crunch the numbers to determine whether the bid cost could be paid off using the half-cent sales tax increase approved by Waverly voters in 2020. Two weeks later, at their July 26 meeting, the council rejected the bid altogether, citing financial uncertainties.
During the meeting, the council discussed the numbers they had found between meetings:
After the donation from the county commissioners, the project’s cash-on-hand sat close to $4.85 million. But the new numbers showed a $7.1 million project total, which considered the bid, plus non-bid costs such as engineer payments and parking lot paving. Without including revenue from the sales tax increase, the project was short by more than $2.2 million.
It had been determined since the previous council meeting that over its 16-year lifespan, the sales tax increase would generate another $1.8 million after paying off the project’s $3.5 million bond issue.
Council Member Abbey Pascoe – who is also the president of GWAFF – said $1.8 million was a conservative estimate. But it left a $400,000 shortfall needed to pay for the aquatic center. After a brief discussion, the council voted 3-0 to reject the Carrothers bid (Council Member Dave Nielson was absent).
Pascoe discussed her conflict in voting down the bid. GWAFF launched the aquatic center’s fundraising in 2018, and Pascoe was appointed to the city council in December 2020.
“As much as I’ve been involved in this project, at the end of the day, we have to have the monetary amount to be able to do it,” Pascoe said. “Since I represent the constituents of Ward 2, I can’t go throwing around their money just because this is a project I have spearheaded for four years.”
Council member Andy Cockerill said the shortfall wasn’t the only good reason to reject the bid. He said if the project wanted to reach fruition by July 2022, it would have to be built through the winter. Cockerill, who has a construction background, said it’s typical that costs rise when construction contends with freezing temperatures – especially projects that involve heavy cement work.
“That could add another $200,000 price tag to it,” he said.
There would likely also be an added cost of having to open and close a pool in the same year, Cockerill said. And he thought the $6.4 million bid from Carrothers was high and might go down next year if the construction market deflates.
“Don’t get me wrong, I want this pool just as bad. My kids both go down (to the pool). I’d love to see it,” Cockerill said. “But what we’ve got to ask is, is it worth rebidding to these companies and sending it out with hard start and end dates and have this (pool) built through the summer? I think we’ll get a better product out of it.”
Kris Bohac, a GWAFF member and president of the Waverly Aquatic Center Fund, said she was disappointed with the vote, but she said she respected the council’s reasoning.
“It just means that we’ve got to keep raising funds,” Bohac said. “It’s going to happen. There’s too much money already into it for it to not happen.”
Once completed, the Waverly Aquatic Center would replace the 50-year-old swimming pool in Waverly’s Wayne Park with a new pool, doubling the current pool’s capacity and including water slides and a lazy river. The new pool would be built in Wayne Park to the south of the current pool.
Pascoe said GWAFF’s next big fundraising event is the disc golf tournament it’s hosting on Aug. 20. The event will also include a bake sale and raffle. Horizon Bank is also still offering to match public donations up to $50,000.
Sam Crisler is a reporter for The Waverly News. Reach him via email at email@example.com.