Complex Projects Call for Expertise; Holmes Urges Special Committee
By Leo Coughlin
LARGO - Using the facts and materials presented to the City Commission at its meeting Tuesday night on the subject of revamping the Highland Recreation Center, Commissioner Curtis Holmes urged that the commission create a construction advisory committee.
Holmes pointed out that all the elements going to make up a project like the Highland Center call for expertise that goes beyond the competence of the City Commission and advice from experts would be useful in making decisions.
Holmes's idea got some support from fellow commission members Woody Brown and Bob Murray and seemed to make eminent sense to them despite Mayor Pat Gerard's efforts to confuse the issue.
The city has a number of other boards, not always dealing with an important, crucial and complex subject like construction.
Here is the list of advisory boards that meet regularly -
Holmes's proposal would create a committee that would not meet regularly, but would be on hand for consultancy when the commission had a subject to discuss like the current Highland Recreation re-do.
"In other words," he said, "the committee would meet as needed and could - as far as I am concerned - sit in with the commission and interact when we are questioning or discussing a project."
As Holmes has termed it, the construction committee's contribution would be tantamount to a "second opinion."
The committee would be made up of people experienced in construction as superintendents, contractors, estimators, architects, engineers, etc.
Holmes's idea will be discussed at a work session and in the words of one veteran observer, a former commission member, "It would be foolish not to pursue this."
As to the Highland Recreation project, the city contemplates borrowing some $18 million to design and build a new complex. But during Tuesday night's discussion it appeared the price could be $13 million.
The city has reviewed 18 architect proposals. That number was winnowed to the three firms that appeared before the commission at Tuesday night's meeting.
Before the commission Tuesday night for their presentations were Gould Evans, Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative and Wannemacher Jensen Architects, Inc.
The commission will choose one of the firms at its meeting next Tuesday. The present facility dates from 1972 and includes a 25,000 square foot building that contains classrooms, a gymnasium, fitness center, kitchen, office, and storage.
Outside there are basketball courts, tennis courts, playground, walking trail, skate park and a Little League baseball field.
There is also the family aquatic center and pool house.
Planned under the revamping includes a new building of 40,000 square feet, a "double gymnasium," expanded fitness center, indoor walking/running track, and a multi-purpose field.
Highland Recreation will be part of what is being planned by the city as a downtown. Because a Largo "downtown" has been hard to distinguish in recent years, there has been a move to establish a downtown in the vicinity of City Hall and police headquarters and the new 30,000 square foot Largo Community Center currently under construction.
Improvements to Highland Avenue are under design. The project has gone back to the drawing board, but the aim of the plan appears to be to construct a grand boulevard entrance from the north to this new "downtown." The old downtown - say, from 50 or so years ago - centered on the intersection of West Bay Drive and Clearwater-Largo Road.
In other news, the special magistrate hearing aimed at resolving the impasse between the fire fighters union and the city over a new contract is scheduled for May 20.
At issue is a new contract to succeed the agreement that expired last September 30.
Main issues are insurance benefits, vacation and wages.
If the city and union do not accept the special magistrate's recommendations, the matter goes to the City Commission, which can impose terms.
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