Wednesday, June 25, 2008

"Difficulty of Work Blamed for Delays Replacing Park Space Lost to Yankee Stadium" NY Times 6/25/8

Difficulty of Work Blamed for Delays Replacing Park Space Lost to Yankee Stadium

Published: June 25, 2008
A parks department official, called before the City Council to explain why an effort to replace recreation space lost to construction of the new Yankee Stadium has been plagued by delays and cost overruns, said on Tuesday that the department’s inexperience with such complex projects was partly to blame.

The city was required to build new parks in the Bronx after Macombs Dam Park and a portion of John Mullaly Park were chosen as the site of the new stadium. State and federal law dictate that a similar amount of parkland of equal or greater fair market value replace the old parks.

The Parks and Recreation Department originally said that seven of the eight replacement parks would be completed by April 2009, in time for opening day at the new stadium. The eighth, Heritage Field, planned for the site of the current stadium, had been scheduled to open in December 2010, after the stadium is demolished, but that date has been pushed back to 2011.

Earlier this year, the agency said the completion of some of the parks would be delayed for as long as two years and cost $174 million, up from an earlier estimate of $95.5 million. The new figures prompted the City Council’s Parks and Recreation Committee to call for a hearing.

On Tuesday, council members asked Liam Kavanagh, the parks department’s first deputy commissioner, a series of pointed questions, including whether the agency had been dishonest about its original cost estimates.

“Is there a possibility the numbers were watered down or made less to make the package more appealing?” asked Councilwoman Helen Diane Foster, the committee chairwoman.

Mr. Kavanagh responded, “I can assure you there was no attempt to underplay the cost of the replacement program.”

He said the agency had had trouble carrying out its plan to place some of the replacement parks in unusual locations, including one atop a stadium parking garage. “It is not something we are fully familiar with,” he said.

The rooftop park, which will include a 400-meter track and basketball courts, was supposed to be completed next year. Now that date has been pushed back to 2010, the parks department has said.

Another replacement park, on an abandoned site along the Harlem River waterfront, ran into trouble when crews found more oil barrels buried there than they had been told to expect, he said. That led to significant costs for removing the barrels and cleaning toxic substances.

“This site is much different than something we typically deal with,” he said. The park along the waterfront will cost about $56 million to build, the department now says.

Mr. Kavanagh said that despite the problems, the waterfront park would be “available for public use a year from now, in line with the original schedule.” However, the stadium’s 2005 environmental report said the park would be done by October 2007.

When Councilman Alan Gerson asked why the agency had not done a more thorough analysis of replacement park sites to determine what they contained before starting construction, Mr. Kavanagh said that in many cases, the department had lacked access to do proper studies.

Mr. Gerson said, “All the reasons you cited are reasons why we should do full-fledged estimates before funding is in place.’’

Other delays and cost overruns are a result of rising construction prices and the decision to expand some parks, including Heritage Field, Mr. Kavanagh said. Three-quarters of an acre was added to that park, bringing it to a total of about 8.9 acres.

He said construction costs alone have been rising 0.75 percent to 1.5 percent each month.

“With international demand for petroleum-based products and basic construction commodities at an all-time high and local demand for construction services pushing supply limits, construction costs continue to outpace even the most liberal estimates,” Mr. Kavanagh said.

Mr. Kavanagh said that despite the delays and escalating costs, the city was committed to building the replacement parks as quickly as possible.


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