Siesta Beach plan details expected to be ready for stakeholders’ review this week

The pavilion at Siesta Public Beach is an historic structure whose rehabilitation is planned to be part of the park improvements. Photo by Norman Schimmel

The Sarasota County project manager responsible for the Siesta Public Beach Park improvements plan hopes to have clearly organized details of that plan available by the end of this week for Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce Chairman Mark Smith and other island stakeholders to review, Smith told The Sarasota News Leader mid-afternoon on Aug. 30.

Project Manager Curtis Smith spoke at length on Aug. 28 with Mark Smith about the status of the project, after county commissioners last week questioned why the plan’s cost estimate continued to rise.

Overall Project Manager Carolyn Eastwood, an employee in the Public Works Department, told the commissioners during an Aug. 20 budget workshop that the latest estimate put the cost between $22 million and $23 million. Questioned about why the number continued to grow, Eastwood said staff was working with the contracted consulting firm, Kimley-Horn and Associates, to determine the answer. The group also was trying to pare the cost down to the previous estimate of $21.5 million.

Mark Smith and other Siesta stakeholders have been seeking details about the projected costs for various aspects of the project. Their hope, Mark Smith has explained to members of the Siesta Key Village Association and the Siesta Key Association, is that he, as an architect, can help the organizations reach consensus on aspects of the plan that can be scrapped to make its completion feasible in a timely fashion.

Although Commissioner Joe Barbetta has been a strong advocate of the county’s using bond revenue to finish the project well before its projected completion date of 2024, other commissioners have voiced concerns about how the county can afford that when it also is facing the replacement of the 800MHz emergency communications system used by the Fire Department and the Sheriff’s Office.

Earlier this week, Curtis Smith sent County Administrator Randall Reid a spreadsheet with the cost estimates of the beach project at the 60% design stage. Reid forwarded it to Commissioner Nora Patterson, who lives on Siesta Key.

“I found it really difficult to make any headway from this list,” Patterson told the News Leader on Aug. 29, after she had reviewed it. “It’s insufficient information [from which] to make any rational decisions,” she added.

As a result, Patterson said, she had talked with Public Works Director James K. Harriott Jr. about getting an itemized list with costs to Mark Smith.

Her impression from looking at Curtis Smith’s document, she said, was that staff had added more features to the park plan, resulting in the higher overall cost.

In an email Curtis Smith sent to Mark Smith on the evening of Aug. 28, Curtis Smith summarized a conversation the two men had had about the project.

Referring to staff, he wrote, “The 30% design drawings were our first chance to see how the project might look, i.e., building facades, layouts, etc. At 30%, we gave the design team guidance on changes to some of the project elements and also asked to include other items that came up in various discussions, meetings, etc.”

The email continued, “We got our first chance to see those things at the 60% stage. In effect, 60% was when our design team said, ‘Here is what you asked for, and here is how much it will cost. Now that we’ve seen the number, we are ‘sharpening our pencils’ to bring costs back in line with the budget.”

Mark Smith told the News Leader that county staff also would be organizing features of the project into the 11 categories of improvements presented to the County Commission on Sept. 14, 2011.

That would enable him and the other stakeholders, Mark Smith said, to get the clearer picture they need of the plans, so they can suggest deletions to bring down costs.

“It sounds like a simple task,” Mark Smith added of the staff work, “but I know it’s not.”

Still, Mark Smith said, Curtis Smith “hopes to have it [finished] this week.”

Additionally, Curtis Smith will make a presentation about the latest project details when he appears as a guest during the Sept. 6 meeting of the Siesta Key Association. That meeting will be held at 4:30 p.m. at St. Boniface Episcopal Church, 5615 Midnight Pass Road.

Although he is eager to take a look at the revised staff plan, Mark Smith said, he would have no problem with waiting until that meeting to see it.

Mark Smith also told the News Leader he had assured Curtis Smith “that I wasn’t [trying] to cause trouble … that the Siesta Key community wants this project to happen.”

Mark Smith added, “Politicians have a lot more backbone if they know the community’s behind them. … I’m hopeful that we’ll get this thing under control.”

The beach park “needs a facelift so badly,” he said.

Editor’s note: This article was updated Sept. 4 to correct information about the cost estimates for the beach project.