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Recreation: Officials say four firms are better than one

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

A proposal that would have four firms work cooperatively to create a design plan for new Georgetown County recreation facilities is still in the works.

County Administrator Sel Hemingway reviewed a draft of the proposal Monday during a meeting with a representative from one of the firms.

“I suggested some changes and he was going to go back and meet with the other firms,” Hemingway said.

A proposal should be ready for review by County Council on Feb. 9. If it is approved, the firms — SGA Architecture of Pawleys Island, DDC Engineers of Myrtle Beach, Woolpert of Charleston and Wood + Partners of Hilton Head — can begin creating a layout for all recreation facilities to be built throughout the county as part of its capital improvement plan.

The county won’t begin construction on any of the facilities until that is accomplished.

The partnership the firms propsed to the county is unconventional, but officials from the firms and the county said they believe it will be in everyone’s best interest.

“It’s a good deal,” said County Council Member Jerry Oakley. “It allows you to draw on the resources of all four firms rather than one, and will have the effect of driving the price down and protecting the taxpayers’ money. I think this is probably the best thing that could have happened in terms of the caliber of the work and getting the taxpayers the biggest bang for their buck.”

After the plan is created, each firm will be assigned one of the county’s four geographical regions to focus on as projects move forward. As a result, the firms “will be competing pretty hard to outdo each other” in the quality of work and price, said Mike Wooten, president of DDC.

County Council Member Glen O’Connell said he has just one worry over the partnership. “I think it has a lot of potential, but I’m a little concerned that with more cooks in the kitchen, so to speak, it may take a little longer to come to a boil,” he said.

Having more minds at work on the plan would be worth a small delay, in his opinion. But Steve Goggans, principal of SGA, said that might not be an issue.

The partnership could “modestly speed things up if the coordination is handled smoothly,” Goggans said. Having four firms will make communications and coordination more complicated, but will also allow research to be done more quickly.

County officials hoped to begin construction of the first projects in the plan this summer, but the timeline had to be moved back by months because of a delay in selecting a design firm.

Council issued a request for proposals to create a design for the facilities last year and initially awarded the job to Woolpert, but when the decision was contested by another firm, it raised questions about the process.

On Jan. 5, county staff met with the four firms it had selected as finalists, planning to have them re-submit proposals based on a more specific request.

It was then that one firm suggested a collaboration.

“We thought that was probably the best way to get what the county wanted,” Wooten said. “And from our perspective, a guarantee of 25 percent of the work is a lot better than no work.”

Design professionals frown on the practice of bidding out work anyway, Wooten said.

“It goes against our canon of ethics,” he explained. “Normally design professionals are chosen based on their ability to perform work” rather than the cost of their services.

“If you look at the fees of the design professional as they relate to the overall cost of the project, it’s a very, very small component of the overall cost,” he continued.

That was part of the objection SGA submitted when council initially awarded the work last year.

Goggans said he had some early reservations when a partnership was suggested, but he’s now completely on board and ready to get started as soon as council approves the proposal.

“I’m optimistic we’ll get some base data collection under way quickly and move the process forward.”

The first phase will include an environmental survey, he said. After that, the firms will host open houses in each area of the county to allow the public to be involved in the process.

Among the first projects to be completed after plans are ready are tennis courts on Waccamaw Neck.

The county paid $8.7 million last year for 80 acres in Litchfield that will house a tournament-level tennis complex, ball fields, walking trails, and other recreational facilities.

The most recent draft of the capital improvement plan, approved by council in October, calls for construction of 10 tennis courts this year at a cost of $1.5 million.

Another $1.5 million will be spent on a new Murrells Inlet Community Center between 2010 and 2012, and $4.65 million is budgeted for a recreation center in Parkersville in 2012 and 2013.

A $1.8-million baseball complex is slated for construction in 2012 and $937,500 is to be spent on mult-purpose fields that same year.

In line for funding after 2013 are a community pool, basketball courts and skateboard facilities.

The county’s capital improvement plan can be viewed in its entirety at georgetowncountysc.org/capitalimprovement/

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