After raising concerns last week about ballooning costs to construct a gifted pavilion from China, the Tacoma City Council tonight unanimously approved an extra $250,000 to cover contractor fees for completing the job.
The move came less than two hours after this afternoon’s emotional council discussion during which at least two council members criticized their colleagues for questioning how to pay cost overruns for the 20-foot tall pavilion – what will be a key feature in the city’s new Chinese Reconciliation Park on the Commencement Bay waterfront.
“Listening to us quibble about money … I felt ashamed to be a leader of this community,” an at times angry and crying Lauren Walker told fellow council members during an afternoon Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday. “We need to support this project.”
But several council members who questioned the project’s additional costs last week responded by explaining their concerns had nothing to do with supporting the Chinese “ting” – a gift from Tacoma’s sister city of Fouzhou, China.
Rather, they said, they were concerned about the details of a purchase resolution hastily placed on last week’s agenda by City Manager Eric Anderson that requested the council divert funds from a highway project to cover the pavilion’s added costs.
“For me, it was about transparency and knowing where the money was coming from,” said Councilman Jake Fey. “I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask.”
The city originally planned to spend $100,000 to lay a concrete pad and for other installation costs for the prefabricated pavilion, shipped to the city from Fouzhou late last year. In all, costs to construct the pavilion have now mounted to at least $600,000.
The council’s approval Tuesday included using an additional $250,000 from city match money set aside for a yet-to-be funded State Route 509 slip ramp project. Anderson said Tuesday he felt comfortable diverting those funds because he doesn’t expect the needed $8 million in federal grants for the highway project will come through anytime within the next two years. Anderson noted Tuesday that $150,000 of city match money still remains earmarked for the highway ramp project.
This is the second time Anderson and his public works staff have asked the council to dip into other funds to cover a bigger price tag for the pavilion. In November, after a smaller than expected delegation from Fouzhou came to Tacoma to supervise construction, the council approved using $200,000 of Public Works Department’s general fund monies and another $150,000 from the city’s open space fund for the project.
City public works staff returned to the council again last week, saying the costs had since ballooned because the construction schedule provided by the Fouzhou team proved to be far too aggressive for what became a far more complicated project than first thought.
The contractor, Clements Brothers Inc., already had been working on other parts of the city’s new 3.9 acre Chinese Reconciliation Park, constructed to educate and heal old wounds from the city’s expulsion of 200 Chinese immigrants in 1885.
The purchase resolution’s late addition to last week’s agenda clearly irked and confused some council members, who delayed approval for a week so they could analyze funding sources being used to cover the overruns.
“What I was most concerned about was funding being removed (from another project) without explanation,” Councilman Ryan Mello said today.
Councilman Marty Campbell, who asked for the delay, said he was caught off guard by the requested diversion of funds from the SR 509 project, in part because he was on the verge of asking the Puyallup Nation to contribute significantly to the very same project.
“Never once was this about not funding the ting,” Campbell said of his move to delay the vote.
Walker, who likened the matter to a family crisis, told her fellow council members before Tuesday’s council meeting that she hoped for a quick approval of the construction funding.
“I think it’s time to vote this thing forward and to have a moment of silence afterward,” she said.
Councilman Spiro Manthou agreed.
“To me, it was too important of a project to question where the funding was coming from,” Manthou said. “I think it’s a disgrace we questioned it.”
The pavilion is expected to open to the public in April.