Nature Center Funding Short?

Nature Center Funding Short?

Estimates for long-awaited nature center more than $1 million over budget.

After learning that funding for the long-awaited nature center is more than $1 million short, Town Council members are determined to stick to a timeline that includes site construction beginning this year.

"Our commitment is to build a nature center as was committed by previous Town Councils," said council member Steven Mitchell. "It's clear to me that's what the commitment to the community has been over all these years."

During the council's Feb. 7 work session, council members learned the nature center, which initially was projected to cost around $1.25 million, is currently projected to cost almost $2.4 million. If parts of the design are modified, the cost could be lowered to $2.28 million, according to Dana Singer, project manager. But, even with these initial modifications — such as removing an observation deck and windows — the project still falls financially short.

"I'm not surprised," said Vice Mayor Darryl Smith. "Every project we've done has been double the cost estimated. We need to estimate better and plan better. Now the decision is, do you want to do it?"

While the consensus is yes, the council does want to construct the long-anticipated center, town staff is now tasked with detailing how the project costs became so escalated. Once they present the information, they will take direction from council about ways to reduce project costs, while also searching for additional funds in the town's budget that can be borrowed.

"I need more information about how it got where it was," said Mayor Michael O'Reilly. Until he can review that information, O'Reilly could not indicate what cost-cutting measures could be used.

The last update council had on the nature center came near the end of 2005, when council members discussed whether or not the site's entrance should be slightly relocated. During that time they did not review construction costs.

BECAUSE COUNCIL members were unaware of this shortfall until their work session — usually council is notified about major issues the Friday before their meetings — many of them were shocked with the announcement.

"What really bothered me was that staff did not have the courtesy to provide the bad news in the council’s Friday dispatch," said council member Dennis Husch. "Even though they knew about the problem since Jan. 20, they choose instead to deliver the message at the work session and not give the council any time to investigate alternative solutions."

Because of the short notice, Husch could not provide any alternative funding or construction solutions because he did not have the "benefit of discussion with staff to determine where the additional funds might come from," he said.

The proposed nature center has been on the council's radar for at least the last 10 years, council member Carol Bruce said.

"Things have moved ahead of the nature center a number of times," said Bruce, who is also the vice president of the Friends of Runnymede Park community group. "It's time to build."

Under pressure from more than Herndon citizens, council hopes to stay on track because project funding from a grant is set to run out in June 2007.

INITIAL CENTER plans proposed to slightly relocate the entrance to Runnymede Park off of the Herndon Parkway. This would allow a left hand turn from the parkway into the parking lot. This lot would be located away from the center, so visitors can walk through the park. A driveway would lead up to the center for people to be dropped off, with handicap and staff parking spaces provided.

Currently, the building has a varying roof line that looks aesthetically appealing and is environmentally friendly. Rain barrels and rain gardens are proposed around the center to demonstrate proper storm water management practices.

Initially, a row of windows along the top of one wall and an observation deck overlooking the park were proposed. To reduce costs, both of these items could be removed, according to the site architect. A large number of windows will still be needed to maintain a steady amount of natural light, and the observation deck could eventually be added.

When the center underwent its first design process the architects attempted to create a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED certified building. This style of construction emphasizes state of the art strategies for sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality. Unfortunately, this kind of design costs more to construct.

Because council has not reviewed what is causing the high project cost, they are not sure if LEED practices are still being used. If they are, council may opt to use a more cost-effective construction, Mitchell said.

To review the construction costs, a committee comprised of council members will be formed in the near future, he said. The goal of the committee will be to work with staff to reduce construction costs.

Ultimately, council members agree that the center needs to be built while remaining on its current timeline.

"I hope we won't have to make any major changes," O'Reilly said. "If you're going to build it, we might as well bite the bullet and do it right the first time."