By Zach Hagadone
The long-debated resurfacing of War Memorial Field with artificial turf took a small but important step forward Feb. 5, when the Sandpoint City Council unanimously voted to permit city staff to put Phase 1 of the project out to bid. The decision did not come without some concerns raised by The Festival at Sandpoint.
Public Works Director Amanda Wilson first provided a presentation on the project phases and timeline — Phase 1 covering excavation and resurfacing of the field, as well as work on lighting and other subsurface infrastructure changes; and Phase 2 focusing on parking lot improvements, perimeter sidewalks, stormwater improvements, and potentially work on the boat launch and restrooms.
The emphasis on Phase 1, Wilson said, was to keep the work as “barebones” as possible in order to meet a timeline that would ensure substantial completion by July 21, leaving some “wiggle room” to pull out of the site in time for The Festival to begin its set-up no later than July 30. That sechedule also clears the way for fall sports to take the field through November.
Phase 1 carries a total forecasted cost of $3.5 million, $3.18 million of which is earmarked for construction contracts and paid for with local option tax funds, and could see a contract awarded as early as the regular Council meeting on Wednesday, March 18 — immediately after which, crews will get to work.
That timeline, however, has Festival organizers worried.
Interim Executive Director Ali Baranski told Council members that she is deeply concerned about the timing of the project and what she described as a situation in which conditions and requirements imposed by the schedule and the work itself have repeatedly changed without adequate warning, making it difficult and costly for the event to plan ahead for the 2020 season.
In addition to $150,000 more in production costs just to protect the artificial turf during The Festival, Baranski said, “we still feel we aren’t being provided with information necessary to put on a successful Festival.”
“Our ability to compromise can only go so far. … There’s just not enough time and information to do this intelligently,” she said, asking Council to consider pushing back the project — retaining the same design plan — to 2021.
Aside from those struggles, however, she said The Festival remains committed to holding its 2020 season at Memorial Field — despite rumors and reports to the contrary. Neither will the event relocate to City Beach, nor is it actively looking for an alternative, private location.
“If this is being done [by Bonner County], it is not at our request or with our permission,” she said.
City staff assured Baranski that the timeline is doable, but if the bids come back too high or the city hears back from contractors that the timeline is too aggressive, there remains a “safety valve.”
“If it looks like this is not going to be successful, we can pull back,” said City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton.
Councilman Joel Arpaio, however, was less sympathetic.
“I’m hearing a lot of ‘we need to protect The Festival,’ but If I’m not mistaken, they aren’t Plan A,” he said, referring to the primary function of the field as a sports facility. “If the timeline doesn’t work out, then it doesn’t work out, sorry.”
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