Hold off on those splash pad playdates.
Even though Payson received a much-anticipated $207,500 grant from the federal government to build a splash pad, the town could scrap the whole project if bids aren’t reasonable.
The Payson Town Council split its vote 4-1 at its Aug. 12 meeting to accept a Land Water Conservation Fund matching grant for $207,000 because no ultimate design or budget exists for the splash pad.
“I’m sitting here, and I’m being asked to accept this grant, not knowing what this splash pad will look like,” said Councilor Jolynn Schinstock.
The Payson council has explored the idea of building a splash pad for the past two years. Community members pushed for the idea in January 2019. At the time, those interested didn’t see the project costing more than $178,000 after talking to the town manager of Snowflake.
“(Splash pads are) relatively inexpensive, starting around $50,000 for a small area. Lots of towns partner with local organizations and businesses for donations or sponsorships, even some private donations and fundraising can be done,” said Lori Mills at the Jan. 24, 2019 Payson council meeting.
Since that time, the town has identified a spot in Green Valley Park for the splash pad, removed a building and received estimates that have risen as high as $687,000 to address engineering needs, accommodate those with disabilities, improve parking and add a fence to keep children safe and wildlife out.
Courtney Spawn, director of the Parks, Recreation and Tourism department, has explored designs and locations, funding and features for the past two years.
In March, she reported the town had a good chance of qualifying for the Land Water Conservation Fund grant, but “if the town pursues bids or any costs before the grant’s approval, the town runs the risk of not being reimbursed.”
The council backed off and waited for news of the grant.
Now, they’re not sure the project will remain within the $415,000 budgeted in the 2021-22 budget.
Staff came up with a budget of $415,000 by doubling the Land Water Conservation Fund grant. This grant is a matching grant. That means the town must pay half the costs.
The town may apply for more funds, especially since the grant requires both an archaeological survey and a project manager — expenses the town did not foresee.
Vice Mayor Chris Higgins wondered if the town could “go out for bids before we accept the grant” so council “could have a better idea what the splash pad will look like before accepting the grant.”
Mayor Tom Morrissey expressed concern at further delays.
“We can’t play games at this point. We need to have some type of aquatic splash pad (or) pool,” he said. “I believe we should move forward and accept that grant.”
Spawn agreed with the mayor.
“It’s been approved. We need to let the granting authority know,” she said.
Town Manager Troy Smith agreed now is the time to go out for a bid. He suggested “the scope of services can be adjusted after a bid.”
Schinstock still expressed frustration at the vagueness of the project.
“I have no idea what this looks like and what I am signing up for,” she said.
To which Councilor Scott Nossek said, “When I told my family we’re fighting about a splash pad … that sounds about right where we are politically in this country.”
He ticked off the positives.
“Do kids love splash pads? Yes. Would it be good for kids? Yes. Is there a good location? Yes,” he said. “I think together with the grant and town budget we can come together to build the best splash pad in Arizona.”
Councilor Barbara Underwood agreed with Nossek but cautioned she’s tired of the constantly shifting scope of the project.
“If we can make it that we spend no more than $415,000 … so we don’t end up with a come back to the council for another $200,000 … I am leaning to allow this project to go through,” she said.
Spawn explained that if the council cannot find a bid they agree with, “You would then have the ability to say we are not proceeding with the project” to the granting authority.
The council voted 4 to 1 to approve the grant. The council only had five members present with Councilor Jim Ferris in the hospital with COVID and Suzy Tubbs-Avakian not able to attend remotely. Schinstock voted against accepting the grant.
Spawn will go out for a bid to see “what project you get for your price point.”