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Phipps Ocean Park re-do to cost more than expected

Our Town with William Kelly: Phipps Ocean Park re-do to cost more than expected

The estimated cost of the Phipps Ocean Park redevelopment has proven higher than expected, prompting the Palm Beach Preservation Foundation to trim costs and ask the town for additional financial support.

The preservation foundation, which is spearheading the renovation of the park, says it has raised $28 million, including $23 million for construction and related costs, and $5 million for an endowment.

But the foundation faces a funding gap of $7 million that is needed before the project breaks ground in early 2024, Amanda Skier, its president and chief operating officer, wrote in a May 26 letter to the council and Mayor Danielle Moore.

“The town’s assistance in bridging this funding gap will allow the project to proceed without significant changes to the overall design and inspire more donors to support the project,” Skier wrote.

The matter is scheduled for discussion at 11 a.m. at the Tuesday, June 13, 2023 council meeting.

The foundation is asking the council to approve funds for infrastructure improvements such as parking lot lighting, security cameras, perimeter walls, lift station and dumpster screening, restrooms, irrigation, and entry gates or walls.

After a guaranteed maximum price for the overall project is received from Burkhardt Construction in August, the foundation will return to the council in September with actual costs and a request for a formal financial commitment to the project, according to Skier. The foundation is asking that the council appropriate the funds for the budget year that begins October 1.

The foundation has worked closely with Miami-based landscape architect Raymond Jungles on design development, which is 60 percent complete. Once renovated, the 20-acre, oceanfront park will immerse visitors in Florida’s native flora and fauna and preserve the natural legacy of Palm Beach, according to Betsy Shiverick, the foundation’s board chairman. The park also will feature new and updated recreational and educational resources.

Phipps Ocean Park, which sits just north of the Par 3 Golf Course in the town’s South End, was donated to the town by the Phipps family in 1948. It has not undergone a significant redesign since it opened.

The foundation has been involved with Phipps Ocean Park since 1990 and operates its living history program at The Little Red Schoolhouse, the one-room school built in 1886 that now serves as a place of learning for fourth-grade students from Palm Beach, Broward and Martin counties.

In 2020, the foundation commissioned Jungles to design a phased master plan for the park improvements. The original cost estimate from Jungles in 2021 was about $20 million. That estimate influenced the preservation foundation’s decision to set its fundraising goal at $30 million, including all design and construction costs and a $5 million endowment.

Burkhardt Construction was selected for pre-construction services for the project. In February, Burkhardt’s cost estimate, at the 50 percent design mark, was $42 million.

The preservation foundation responded by “value engineering” the plans and eliminating some features and finishes. Burkhardt’s updated estimate is $30 million; the foundation’s goal is to bring it down to about $27 million, Skier wrote.

The $30 million estimate does not include design and other non-construction costs, estimated at about $3 million.

The preservation foundation and town have a partnership in place that is critical to the realization of the project and the long-term sustainability of the park, Skier wrote.

Besides raising the funds to design and build the project, the preservation foundation is committed to overseeing the care of the Little Red Schoolhouse, Coastal Restoration Center, and native plantings throughout the park, Skier wrote.

In addition to the construction costs, the preservation foundation anticipates spending $680,000 in personnel and maintenance costs for the park each year, Deputy Town Manager Carolyn Stone wrote in a memo to Moore and the council.

The foundation expects to receive a $442,195 state grant for the relocation of the Little Red Schoolhouse, which is part of the project design, according to Stone.

The council has allocated the use of town staff to oversee the project, approved $229,000 to pay for the removal of invasive plants, and committed to maintain and staff the park once the project is complete.

The town expects to spend about $660,000 annually on personnel and maintenance costs for the park. Increased parking revenues are expected to partially offset that by about $378,000 a year, Stone wrote.

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