Nature Center Developments

Nature Center Developments

Council to hear Runnymede Park nature center update at work session.

Hoping to keep on track with development plans, a committee comprised of council members, town staff and Friends of Runnymede Park representatives met March 2 to discuss how the park's proposed nature center fell off track.

During a work session a month earlier, council members were informed by town planning staff that the proposed center was more than $1 million over the original cost projections.

Caught off guard by this information, most council members felt the building plans needed a comprehensive review before moving forward. After taking a preliminary look at the plans, council member Steven Mitchell felt some of the building costs were not accurate, he said.

At the request of Mayor Michael O'Reilly, Mitchell was asked to head a committee to review the plans and brainstorm ways to bring the cost down. Mitchell was joined by council member Carol Bruce, Dave Swan, president of the Friends of Runnymede Park, Art Anselene, director of parks and recreation, Bob Boxer, director department of Public Works and Dana Singer, nature center project manager.

"We found some things that we feel confident there will be additional savings," Bruce said. "And, we feel that we have raised the level of awareness about the fact that we need to be aware of cost in the future."

While an exact amount of savings could not be reached, the committee was confident the design and construction process could move forward without being slowed and without major changes being made to the layout of the proposed building.

"The project is at a phase where we can only do so much," Mitchell said. "To tighten [the budget] right now is not possible."

During its review, the committee discovered there were no large line items that could be taken out to reduce the overall cost. But, there were a number of areas where the materials could be changed to reduce cost, Bruce said.

An example she offered was the use of wood framing on the building. Because the building was originally designated to be a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED certified building, the type of trees used to build the wood framing had to be certified trees. This means they were not clear cut, and had to meet additional requirements to be certified — an expensive process, Bruce said.

Instead of paying the extra cost for the LEED certified building materials, the group determined using sustainable materials, such as hearty plank over cedar siding for the building, was the best way to save money.

"We decided that the nature center needs to be built in an environmentally sensitive and sensible way," she said. "It can be built in a way that meets LEED criteria, but we will not do the things that will require extra money."

Mitchell and Bruce were scheduled to discuss their findings with council during its March 7 work session, held after The Connection's deadline.

"We are recommending the design committee consider doing these changes," Bruce said. "We believe there are additional savings to be realized."

OTHER ITEMS on the council's agenda for its March 7 work session included an application to amend the proffer conditions so commercial buildings could be built on three pieces of land that fall along the corner of Elden and Van Buren Streets and Monroe and Van Buren Streets.

The land along Elden Street, near Resource Bank at 625 Elden Street, includes 1.21 acres; the land along Elden and Van Buren Streets includes 1.19 acres; and the land fronting along Monroe Street near the Van Buren Street entrance includes 0.72 acres.

The applicant, Herndon Crossroads LLC, is requesting to build a Walgreens drive through pharmacy at the corner of Elden and Van Buren Streets and to build a small retail building along Monroe Street, between the 7-Eleven and First Baptist Church.

During its Feb. 6 public hearing, Planning Commissioners unanimously voted to recommend approval of the application to the council because the plans meet parking, landscaping and open space requirements, among other things.

Council was also scheduled to discuss an application by Winchester Homes for a site plan to construct 34 townhouses on 4.395 acres at Grant and Van Buren Streets.