Saratoga County

Saratoga Springs mayor says rec center can go ahead

Mayor Scott Johnson said a resolution to a conflict between the city and state over competitive bidd

Mayor Scott Johnson said a resolution to a conflict between the city and state over competitive bidding has been reached, clearing the way for construction of the city’s controversial indoor recreation building at the Southside Recreation Field.

However, The Friends of South Side Park, a group of residents living near the field who are opposed to the project, filed papers Monday so they can take their case against the city to the state’s mid-level appeals court.

The Friends’ initial lawsuit, which was dismissed last month in state Supreme Court in Ballston Spa, maintains that when the City Council approved the $5 million recreation building, it violated numerous procedural and substantive provisions of the State Environmental Quality Review Act, City Charter budget procedures and the city’s zoning laws.

Johnson held a news conference Monday afternoon at Southside Recreation Field to announce that the legal challenge by the state Labor Department over the state’s Wicks Law competitive bidding process had been resolved.

“I am pleased to announce that we can finally begin construction and now deliver a long-waited recreation center that we, as taxpayers, have already been paying for without any meaningful results until now,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the city and state Labor Department officials negotiated the competitive bidding issue after the state issued a “stop bid order” in late February.

The result is that Bast-Hatfield Inc., which was the sole bidder on the project, will seek three separate bids for the electrical, heating and ventilating, and plumbing work for the 33,000-square-foot indoor recreation center, Johnson said. He said that Bast-Hatfield will do the mechanical work on the indoor center and has agreed to seek competitive bids on the three other contracts under the state’s Wicks Law. The agreement means the city will not have to rebid the entire project to comply with the Wicks Law, which requires state and local governments to issue multiple construction contracts for most public works projects.

“We can go forward without the city re-bidding the whole process,” Johnson said.

Johnson said that ground will be broken soon on the indoor center that will include basketball and racquetball courts and an indoor track. “We hope to be finished by year’s end,” Johnson said.

As to the Friends’ lawsuit filed against the city in December that sought to stop construction of the center on the Southside Field at Vanderbilt Avenue and Worth Street, Johnson said that the issue was settled in the city’s favor last month.

“By decision dated March 25, 2009, the Supreme Court found in favor of the city and dismissed each and every alleged violation,” Johnson said in a written statement.

Attorney Joseph C. Berger of Clifton Park, representing the Friends group, filed an appeal to this ruling on Monday to take the case to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in Albany.

“This is the wrong project, in the wrong place, at the wrong time,” said Bill Mirabile, one of the petitioners in the Friends suit against the city.

“Apart from the loss of irreplaceable community open space and playing fields, this project will overwhelm this neighborhood with traffic and people year-round, changing its character forever and for the worst,” Mirabile said in a statement.

Johnson said the indoor recreation center project has been in the planning stages for more than 10 years. The city sought bids on the project earlier this year with Bast-Hatfield bidding $4.9 million, well below the $6.5 million the city has bonded for the project.

Public Safety Commissioner Ronald Kim, who is often at odds with the mayor, said Monday night that the agreement between the city and Bast-Hatfield and any consent decree with the state Labor Department need to be approved by the entire City Council.

Kim added that the ongoing annual operating costs of the indoor recreation building have been projected at between $220,000 and $250,000. He said if you add this to the $400,000 per year in payments on the bonds, the city will be facing more than $600,000 in new budget costs.

Kim said this could mean cutting the Police Department by four to six officers to make up the difference during the difficult economic times.

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