Local projects delayedBy Steve Estes
Five-year-old Kendall spends a good deal of her spare time at the Big Pine Community Park, taking advantage of the really cool playground at the facility, and generally running off some energy, particularly during the long, hot, sweltering days of summer when school isn’t in session.
She and many of her other young friends meet at the park even when school is in session, grabbing an hour or so of playtime before the sun goes down and the dinner table calls.
And while the kids who use the park don’t really notice the absence, the relentless sun is able to beam directly on the area’s younger generation because of a lack of a shade structure over the playground.
The structure was authorized for purchase and installation by the Monroe Board of County Commissioners three years ago.
And as yet, shade is provided only by the taller playground equipment and the occasional cloud in the sky.
The county’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board three years ago recommended the installation of shade structures over the playground at Big Pine Community Park, as well as the community park in Baypoint, and just last year added the playground at Higgs Beach in Key West to the mix.
And for those same three years, the project has lain dormant in the offices of the Public Works Divisions’ Project Management team.
“It is disappointing that staff seems give so little credence to the recommendations and actions of the parks and recreation committee,” said Steve Miller, chairman of that advisory group, and a long-time advocate for kid-friendly community parks in every Monroe County neighborhood.
“It’s our job to listen to what the people who use the parks suggest, then pass that along to the BOCC for action. Once the BOCC takes the action, it’s also disappointing to us (park board) that the staff shelves away those directives until something happens to bring it back to the front burner.”
Local officials began asking questions concerning the whereabouts of the shade structures after the BOCC approved another few hundred thousand dollars for a shade structure at Higgs Beach, a move not even on the radar when the Big Pine approval was given.
According to Rosa Washington, the parks board’s liaison with Public Works, bids for the project did go out, and there was only one respondent.
“Even though we think we got a good deal on that proposal, we still have to go out and get another one to follow procedure,” said Washington. “That has been done and we’re in the negotiation process now. The potential contractors have been out to the Big Pine park and done their measurements, gathered their information.”
She said the BOCC will be asked in January to approve a contract for the installation of the shade structure at the Big Pine park.
“If we get that, I’m told it will take eight to 10 weeks for the materials to be delivered, so March or early April we should see something happening out there on that project,” Washington said.
County Public Works Director Kevin Wilson said that the delay in approval and project start needs to be cut back instead of rolling the money for each project over the next fiscal year.
“I know we have design in process on the shade structure projects and they should start moving quickly now,” said Wilson.
There are other local projects that have been awarded funding by the BOCC in recent years but still languish somewhere in the project management sphere.
It’s been nearly two years since the BOCC approved a new wayfinding sign program for the Lower Keys that is designed to consolidate directional signs along US 1 and help reduce the clutter of signs that guide and regulate motorists in their travels.
Recently the BOCC rejected the only bid for the project after it finally hit the streets, a bid that was about 30 percent higher than what what was estimated when the project was approved back then.
The wayfinding sign program was the result of a series of community workshops that gauged the feeling of local residents and motorists. That workshop came about as a result of a years-long effort to revamp the county’s sign ordinance where one of the principal complaints was that there are too many signs.
In cooperation with the state Department of Transportation a consultant facilitated the meetings, drew up some preliminary plans, got a consensus from the locals, and shipped the proposal off to the BOCC.
County Commissioner George Neugent has been one of the strongest advocates for clearing up sign clutter along US 1 in the Keys.
“That doesn’t seem to be making much progress right now,” he said.
There are a couple of other projects that are also falling behind schedule, projects based on state DOT money. If those projects come in as late as some of the locally funded projects, DOT may start to take a dim view of granting Monroe County money for quality-of-life and transportation enhancement projects.
DOT is the primary source of funding for a project to add an observation pier over Bogie Channel to the Big Pine park, as well as a Higgs Beach-related pier at Reynolds St. in Key West.
The money was programmed by DOT for this year, and just six months of the state fiscal year remain.
“I know we’re getting close to design phase on the pier,” said Wilson.
On the heels of the scenic overlook pier at Big Pine park is state DOT money to aid in the development of the old swimming hole at the west end of Big Pine Key, money that was pulled from the DOT five-year work plan due to concerns about progress on other state-funded projects, but replaced this past week.
We have to do a good job of completing projects when the state sends some of our money back to us,” said Neugent. “This is something we need to address with the chain of command.”