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Rising Costs Derail Civic Center Park Renovation By MATTHEW ARTZ

Friday September 09, 2005

Renovations to Berkeley’s Civic Center Park, in the works since 1996, have been delayed once again after the city learned that the project would cost at least $400,000 more than anticipated. 

The city will redesign the project so that it can be completed for the $981,000 it has budgeted for renovations, said Berkeley Director of Parks and Recreation Marc Seleznow. The lowest bid for the project came in at $1.4 million, he said. 

“When you’re talking a $400,000 shortfall, I’m sure some things will be taken out of the design,” Seleznow said. 

The city had hoped to start the project this summer and complete it by the end of the year. Seleznow said it would take the city’s consultants about three months to redesign the project and then seek the City Council’s approval. He added that the city no longer had a timetable for when renovations would be completed. 

The planned renovation for the park just north of Berkeley High School between Milvia Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way included a new children’s play area, a refurbished west end of the park, including a stage and rails for skateboarders, pedestrian lighting, sidewalk renovations, new benches, drinking fountains and an upgraded irrigation system. 

Voters approved money for the project in 1996 as part of Measure S, a city bond for downtown improvements. Councilmember Dona Spring said the project was then delayed though 2002 as preservationists and advocates for Native Americans battled over a proposal to replace the park’s fountain with a new fountain design which would be a monument to local indigenous peoples. A compromise was eventually reached to leave the fountain design substantially unchanged and to install a monument for Native Americans elsewhere in the fountain plaza. 

“What a terrible shame that the process took so long and the money has lost so much of its value,” said Spring, whose district includes the park. 

A city engineering study performed this spring estimated that the full project would cost just under $1 million. But Seleznow said that rising construction costs resulted in the three bids from contractors all coming in over budget. “Concrete, steel and labor, everything is going up,” he said. 

Seleznow said that the monument honoring Native Americans would remain part of the plan and that the new lighting would probably remain as well. A children’s climbing structure, designed to resemble a creek flowing from the hills to the Bay, might have to be simplified, he added. 

In April, the City Council voted against spending $600,000 to repair and maintain the functionality of the existing fountain, which has been dry for the past four decades. 

Spring said that despite the city’s fiscal shortfall, she would try to squeeze more money for the park, including funds for the fountain. 

“There’s just something morbid about this dried out cement hole,” she said. 

While rising construction costs have jeopardized other projects in the city, most notably the planned David Brower Center, Seleznow said that contractor bids for upgrades in four other park have come in within the city’s budget. The parks are Cedar Rose Park, King School Park, Live Oak Park and Shorebird Park. 

Seleznow said the other projects only required new play equipment and didn’t need electrical or irrigation work. “They were more focused and didn’t require a lot of steel or concrete,” he said.