Pardon? Picnic Pavilions Pourquoi? County Clerk Responds

Parks & Rec Director Stacy Stephens presents pavilion plans.

One item that arose at last week's meeting of the Dade County Commission was the construction of pavilions at the county park, AKA the Four Fields. That item had not arisen at any earlier meeting of the Dade County Commission. Thus The Planet asked for clarification, which it hereby duly relays to its readers.

Stacy Stephens, Dade’s parks and recreation director, stood up at the March 1 meeting to ask for SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) funds to build four pavilions at the county park. These will be 14 x 24-foot roofed picnic shelters or gazebos, suitable for birthday parties, family reunions and so forth. Stephens had obtained three bids, the lowest of which, from Hartline Construction, quoted a price of $15,720 per pavilion. A closer look at the bid shows a price of $56,400 for all four buildings, making for a discount of $6480 for buying in bulk. The commission without dissent or really much discussion OKed the Hartline bid.

The commissioners in recent months have discussed buying new playground equipment for the Four Fields, and a citizen had stood up before them at their November meeting entreating them to do so. But pavilions? No one had mentioned pavilions. So, asked The Planet of Dade County Clerk Don Townsend after the meeting, why pavilions?

“It actually goes way back to the 2004 SPLOST,” said Townsend.

The pavilions, explained Townsend, were apparently the only project on a SPLOST list approved by Dade voters 14 years ago that had not been completed and closed out, a fact that had been presented him by local newsman Evan Stone when Townsend was speaking for the commission on the radio several weeks ago. “After the little interview thing was over, he asked me about the ‘multi-purpose buildings at the park,’ and I went, ‘What are you talking about?’” said Townsend.

The question, he discovered, was something in the nature of a gauntlet flung. “Evan, I think, was trying to make the point from some of the local folks that why would we want to pass a TSPLOST if we still have things out there that have not been accomplished from prior SPLOSTs?” said Townsend (right).

Townsend decided he’d better check it out. There’s only so long the commission can put off a SPLOST project, he said. “It can be delayed, it can be continued, it can be in process,” said Townsend. “But it’s voted on by the voters. You can’t say, we’re not going to do it.”

So back Townsend went to the commission office, where he dug up the 2004 list and found on it a reference to “construction of a general-use county pavilion and other structures to promote civic activity,” and had to concede nothing like that had been built.

“There have been other structures,” said Townsend. “Depending on how you interpret it, some could say, that sounds like a concession stand, but I think the concession stand was already there in 2004.”

Townsend decided to see how much paviliions would cost. If something is expected to cost less than $20,000, he said, the commission is not required to submit a written RFP (request for proposals) but is allowed to ask for bids orally. “So I asked Stacey Stephens to get us some prices and he did, and I thought I’d bring it up to the commissioners and see what they wanted to do,” said Townsend. “So I brought it up at the meeting and then they approved it. I really didn’t know if they would approve it that night or not, but they chose to go ahead and approve it.”

And that is the story of how the Dade County public park came to have—or will come to have, in any case—four 14 x 24-foot roofed picnic shelters or gazebos, suitable for birthday parties and family reunions.

Playground equipment at the Trenton city park was pricey -- Trenton coughed up a quarter million for it.

As for that new playground equipment, Dade County will probably not have that in the immediate future. “I don’t see where the money’s coming from,” said Townsend. “It’s absolutely astounding how much this stuff costs. Maybe we can add a piece as we can afford it.”

The matter is, added Townsend, not up to him but to the elected commissioners, and he did recently provide them with a huge catalog of playground equipment. But it can cost up to $500,000, said Townsend, and as Dade’s numbers man he knows the county hasn’t got that kind of numbers. “You have to prioritize public safety,” he said. “What we have to examine is, when we have X amount of dollars, how do you put playground equipment before fire trucks?”

As for other unfinished SPLOST projects, Townsend noted that the Davis community center listed on the 2009 SPLOST was never completed but that that was unavoidable. “At the time that was put on, someone was willing to give the county the property, but that’s not the case today,” said Townsend. “We can’t build something on property that the county doesn’t own.”

But Dade is in the process of building a long-promised walking track at Davis, he added. “Our goal is to finalize those old projects and that’s what that was about,” concluded Townsend.

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