Sports building bid Ok’d

Published 1:01 pm Wednesday, March 15, 2017

By Ryan Kushner

Staff writer

The Smithfield Town Council has awarded a contract to erect a central concession building for the Joseph W. Luter Jr. sports complex to A.R. Chesson Construction for $637,100, despite concerns that over half a million dollars in funding has still not been secured for the project.

Isle of Wight County committed $250,000 toward the sports complex early last year, and the Smithfield Recreation Association (SRA), which is slated to manage the newly minted ball fields once they are completed, pledged $300,000. However, according to Town Manager Peter Stephenson at the Town Council meeting Tuesday, March 7, both of those financial agreements have yet to be executed.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Council member Mike Smith expressed concern about the expenditure of $637,100 on facilities that began with a budget of around $450,000, as well as the fact that some of the funding is not yet fully in place. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

“I’ve got heartburn over the whole thing because of the money,” said Smith. “I don’t want to leave some small detail left undone, like $300,000. I want to make sure it’s going to be there.”

SRA plans to raise its contribution by selling Beale Park, its current facility, but has no intention of putting it on the market until a lease agreement between the town and SRA is finalized, according to SRA President Chris Kennedy.

A lease agreement between SRA and the town to manage the sports complex has been under negotiation since November, as both entities attempt to nail down the other’s contractual responsibilities.

Kennedy said he does not anticipate any issues selling Beale Park, however.

“It’s prime real estate,” Kennedy said.

Should the non-profit organization be unable sell the park to raise the funds for some reason, Kennedy said there are other fund-raising options, but that “it would take some time to raise that type of money.”

As for the county’s promised funds, Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson said that the still unsettled agreement had been for the county to pay $50,000 annually over five years to the town, to offset costs relating to the sports complex.

As for why the agreement hasn’t been finalized yet, “I have no idea,” said Robertson, adding that it may just be that people haven’t had time to get together to hammer it out.

The money would likely come from the county’s operation funds, according to Robertson.

During prior committee meetings, Council member Dr. Milton Cook had expressed some dismay at the high cost of the architecture bids for the sports complex, which, along with the multi-use concession building, includes a brick entrance wall, weather vane and three solid bronze statues of baseball players (additions specifically requested by the Joseph Luter family). However, during the town council meeting, Cook noted that Smithfield is ultimately a “minority player” in the overall funding of the project, and supported awarding the contract to Chesson.

“We need to stay truthful to the vision we gave our donors,” said Cook. “The bronze statues, I think, is the silliest thing there is; but that’s what they like and that’s what they want and that’s why they gave $2 million.”

Joseph Luter III, the former president and CEO of Smithfield Foods, donated $2 million to the ball park project at the beginning of last year under the condition that the county also contribute $250,000. The donation was in an addition to $1 million contributed by Smithfield Foods. The town of Smithfield allocated $775,000 to purchase the 100-acre property off of Route 258, where the ball fields will be located. Farmers Bank is also contributing $175,000 to the project.

“It’s important that this is not just our money, but also our taxpayers’ money,” said Smith during the town council meeting. “We want to do the right thing for our donors, but we also want to do the right thing for our taxpayers.”

Council member Denise Tynes said she was concerned over the town’s agreement with SRA.

“If they can’t sell the property, then where is the $300,000 coming from?” Tynes asked Mayor Carter Williams at the meeting. “Is it coming from residents of the town of Smithfield?”

Williams said he is confident that the $550,000 yet to be secured from SRA and the county will come through.

“I feel very comfortable on both of those transactions,” said Williams, adding that the county has told him several times that they are good for the money, and that SRA so far has a “hand shake and a verbal agreement” from a potential buyer for Beale Park.

Following the unanimous decision to award the contract to A.R. Chesson, Cook asked that the council direct Stephenson to work with County Administrator Randy Keaton to finalize the financial agreement.

“When we’re making financial decisions on how this money’s spent, as Mr. Smith said, we are making decisions on a hope and a prayer on some of this money,” Cook said. “That loop needs to be closed.”

The town received just two submissions in its second time bidding out the construction for the concession building last month, both of which were still several hundred thousand dollars over the original budget.

A.R. Chesson Construction Company, which is headquartered in North Carolina, submitted a base bid of $716,900 for the construction of two concession buildings and other architectural amenities around the ball parks.

The company provided a list of bid alternates in its submission, items it listed it could trim from the original design of the architecture. Of the items to delete from the design, the town chose to nix the second, smaller concession building, a subtraction of $79,800, making for an overall budget of $637,100 for Chesson.

The town’s original budget for the architecture was around $450,000, though more funding has since become available, according to Project Manager Brian Camden of Alpha Corporation.

Regarding costs, the bronze baseball statuary is estimated by A.R. Chesson at $12,650. The weather vane to be placed on the top of the two-story building will be molded in the likeness of baseball legend Ted Williams and cost $6,600. The brick entrance walls were estimated at $40,000.

Camden, who said he had been hoping to see a lot more bids for the project, warned the town council last Tuesday that rejecting Chesson and rebidding the package a third time would be a costly decision.

“The market is heating up considerably right now,” said Camden. “If you were to rebid this project right now and put it out to bid tomorrow without any changes, it’s our opinion that it would cost you an extra $75 to $100,000. The [contractors] that used to be hungry are getting fat.”
By giving A.R. Chesson notice to proceed with construction last week, Camden said both the site work and the facilities should be wrapped up by fall.

The Wombwell house

Meanwhile, as R.A.D. Sports continues slightly ahead of schedule developing the fields for the sports complex, the town accepted two offers to purchase and relocate two abandoned outbuildings on the former Dr. Jordan Wombwell property next door—but still none for the main 1840s Tidewater cottage itself.

After the town received only two bids to remove the buildings in August last year, it issued out another “informal” RFP, this time for any building on the land for $1 and a plan to remove it at the buyer’s expense. 

Thomas Mayes, who was previously awarded the $1 purchase of the smokehouse building on the property and recently completed relocating it to his property in Surry, submitted again, this time for the dairy house on the property.

The other submission came from Smithfield Planning and Zoning Commissioner William Saunders, who placed a bid for a small barn located in the back of the property.

Stephenson gathered demolition costs for each of the buildings on the property and found that by allowing the barn and dairy to be purchased and relocated by outside parties, the town will save $2,400.

The estimated cost for demolishing the deteriorating Wombwell house itself is $9,750.

The town has no immediate plans to tear the building down, according to Stephenson. It does plan to have it cleaned up before the sports complex opens.  {/mprestriction}