MUNSTER | Little League and girls softball teams will lose another season because plans to improve Munster Community Park have hit a snag.
The Munster Redevelopment Commission, composed of the five Town Council members, recently voted 4-1 to reject all bids submitted in early August for the second phase of construction work at the park. The commission wants to continue studying the project and look specifically at expenses and project management.
Gough Inc., of Merrillville, was the lowest responsible bidder with a bid of $3.42 million for the second phase. The phase includes construction of the Little League and girls softball fields, a concession building and a maintenance building.
Gough has been part of the team constructing roads and other infrastructure in the first phase of the Community Park project.
Plans originally called for construction of those fields to begin this summer and be completed next spring.
The commission’s action means the fields won’t be ready for spring practice and games. The teams lost their fall season because of sewer work being completed in the northern part of Community Park to prevent repeated flooding, said Town Manager Tom DeGiulio, who also heads the Parks Department.
Commissioners Joseph Simonetto and John Reed led the move to reject the bids. Longtime council/commission members John Edington and David Nellans also voted to reject the bids.
Only Commissioner Andy Koultourides voted against the motion to reject the bids. Koultourides said he believes labor costs will go up in 2013, adding to the expense.
Commissioners also voted to explore having Town Engineer James Mandon manage all parts the second phase rather than hire a general contractor such as Gough.
The commission controls the tax increment financing fund, which includes more than $5 million in property taxes paid by businesses in the town’s TIF district and returned annually to Munster. The TIF district includes Calumet Avenue, 45th Street, Main Street and Ridge Road. Community Park is eligible for use of TIF funds.
During discussions, commissioners specifically targeted whether there will be enough this year in the TIF fund to complete Community Park’s second phase without shorting other projects.
Simonetto and Reed repeatedly said the $3.4 million bid by Gough exceeded by $600,000 the original estimates made by The Linden Group, designers of the park’s master plan.
In addition, commissioners stressed the TIF fund currently is still owed more than $2 million in reimbursements from the U.S. Department of Energy for the methane-to-electricity project at Centennial Park.
DeGiulio tried to reassure the commissioners that all the money needed to finance the Community Park project would be in the TIF fund because the Department of Energy would reimburse the money by Dec. 31.
In addition, DeGiulio said Gough would invoice only 75 percent, or $2.4 million, this year.
“We will use our 2013 appropriations authority in TIF or other designated funds to complete the projects,” DeGiulio said.
Simonetto balked at that, saying he wanted all the money to be in the TIF fund before work on the second phase is started.
Reed said the project could be accomplished for less than Gough’s bid and should be under Mandon’s management.
The commission’s action stunned DeGiulio and his staff, architects from The Linden Group and league representatives. No contingency plans have been announced.