Playing fields' price goes up
Project may cost more than $1 million

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Playing fields' price goes up
harrison Skate ParkJudith Scherr, Berkeley Daily Planet, February 19, 2000

Project may cost more than $1 million

A sports field project slated for a site at Harrison Street and the Union Pacific railroad tracks just got a little pricier. The Commission on Labor recently reaffirmed an earlier refusal to sign off on a request to pay workers on the site less-than-prevailing wages.

So the project, originally expected to cost $870,000, has jumped to $1.2 million. Even at the higher cost, the price is low enough to keep the project from going out to bid. The City Council said the sports fields could be developed by the nonprofit Association of Sports Fields Users, and would not go out for competitive bid as long as ASFU promised to build it for at least 20 percent less than a for-profit builder would do. At the higher wage rate the project is expected to cost 24 percent less than estimates for the cost of construction by a for-profit developer.

Marcy Wong, architect and planner for the project, estimated that a for-profit contractor would do the job for $1.6 million, according to Parks and Waterfront Project Manager Ed Murphy.

Murphy acknowledged there is a downside to using a nonprofit developer. A nonprofit cannot get insurance and cannot be bonded. The developer could walk away from the project or costs could skyrocket. "That's the risk that we take going to a nonprofit," Murphy said, noting, however, "These risks are offset by the benefits of community participation."

The City Council approved an environmental study on the project in December. That study faces a challenge at Tuesday's council meeting. The council has yet to approve the project construction. Approval of construction appears on this week's City Council agenda, but Murphy says the city manager will remove the item and reschedule it.

The play fields will be developed on a 6.2-acre parcel, which will be purchased from the University of California. The $2.8 million deal is about two weeks from completion, Murphy said. Two lighted playing fields, a two-story field house and an 18,000 square-foot skateboard park are slated for the new park. The project also includes a 20-car parking lot and improvements to Codornices Creek, which runs along the edge of the property.

Various commissioners, have asked whether-the nonprofit developer is making any money on the project. ASFU Chair Doug Fielding adamantly responds that he's not making a dime. What he's doing is creating much-needed fields for youth, sports.

Fielding traced the history of the ASFU and his relationship to this project. His personal interest in. youth sports was born when his daughter started playing youth soccer and softball. "We couldn't get space for girls sports," he said. Fielding became an active sports dad and president of the Alameda Youth Soccer League. He said he does the volunteer sports work because of the impact he's seen on his daughter and other girls. "They feel confident," he said.

He later oversaw the development of Fielding Field. a softball and soccer field on UC Berkeley land in Albany, just north of the Harrison Street site. The nonprofit, made up of all the teams that use sports fields in Berkeley, was created about four years ago to oversee allocation of Berkeley fields among users. It also maintains the fields. UC Berkeley once had plans to build a West Campus addition on the land it owned near the railroad tracts and Harrison streets, Fielding said. But it scrapped those plans several years ago.

Instead, it decided to expand University Village housing to the site in Albany that is now a softball field and sell the land it owns at the tracks and Harrison. Fielding learned the land was for sale and began to float the idea that the city of Berkeley ought to purchase it for sports fields. He has worked with Murphy shepherding the project through the commissions and to the City Council level.

Like Fielding, Murphy said he's gotten questions about whether the nonprofit will earn money on the deal. "They are valid concerns," Murphy said, noting, however, that there is enough oversight from the city to prevent that from happening. City staff is monitoring bids for subcontractors, monitoring the work and the paychecks, he said. Fielding explained that the bid process will be somewhat different from the procedure typically used by the city. The construction manager for the project will solicit bids from several different firms who do the specific work he wants done on the project. A city generally advertises more broadly for bids.

The project manager and city staff will select the lowest bidder, who can do the work required. The role of the nonprofit will be to get materials and labor donated to the project. Workers will be paid union-scale wages, but volunteers will also be at work. The youth who will use the skateboard park are going to be involved in its design and construction, Murphy said. The benefit goes beyond the actual work the young people won't trash it or put graffiti on it. "That's the advantage of community ownership," Murphy said.

Activist citizen L A Wood is appealing the council's Dec. 7 approval of an environmental study of the Harrison Street play field project. The City Council will hear the appeal Tuesday. "Heading the list of community concerns is the location's poor air quality and its possible health impacts on the users of the city park, that is, children," Wood wrote in a February 14 letter of appeal.

Wood points to a two-day study on the air quality done in 1997 by Acurex Environmental Corporation. "The Acurex summary, though limited in scope, has raised concerns about airborne particulates and the diesel emissions directly associated with the Union Pacific Railroad," Wood writes. He further points to a zoning conflict that arises from locating children's sports in an industrial setting. And, the city should investigate groundwater contamination on the site, Wood says in his appeal.

The environmental document mandates further monitoring, but Wood said "Constructing the playing fields and then monitoring was not a responsible course of action."

Councilmember defends selection of Harrison site
Councilmember Polly Armstrong, a staunch supporter of the project, said she does not dismiss Wood's concerns. She said she'd like the children to have a "pristine sylvan glen" in which to play. "But we live in the real world," Armstrong said. The Harrison Street site has been tested and is safer than driving children to far-away towns every weekend and safer than children skateboarding in the street, she said. "It's a compromise," she said.

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