The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Looming slugfest between City Hall and FEMA foreshadowed in move to rebuild flood-damaged Ellis Park pool

In Uncategorized on January 25, 2009 at 8:21 am

City Manager Jim Prosser, with the full support of the City Council, is spending a total of a few million dollars on at least four consultants to help the city assess the flood damage to an assortment of the city government’s key buildings and 300 or so other city facilities ranging from the sewer plant to water wells to park pavilions.

The consultants also are putting a price tag on what the city thinks the cost will be to fix the facilities as they were, fix them and improve them or demolish them and build something else. So much rebuilding needs to take place that the consultants are helping, too, to prioritize the order in which things get rebuilt. It can’t all be done at once.

It’s been a methodical process, the value of which might very well surface in the debate in this year’s coming municipal elections. Look for some candidates to question the speed of the city’s recovery.

One read of the value of the City Hall approach will come by April 1. That’s the date in which bids are expected on the renovation of the Ellis Park swimming pool, one of those 300-plus city facilities damaged in the June flood.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has put the cost of repairs at $214,502; the city’s consultants, at $314,187. The city’s estimate is 46 percent more than FEMA’s.

Granted, $100,000 here and there is only that. But the number will be tens of millions of dollars when estimates differences in the range of 46 percent are applied to a $25-million renovation bill like the ones talked about at the Veterans Memorial Building/City Hall and the Paramount Theatre and the $17 million to $21 million estimate for the library. And then there’s the Water Pollution Control facility, city wells, park buildings and on and on.

From the earliest days after the June flood, the city’s Prosser has said that fighting for dollars from FEMA would be one of the big tasks that city government would face in repairing or replacing what it lost in the flood. Other cities that have had the experience report that they never got what they believe they should have from FEMA, Prosser has said.

Last week, Prosser shrugged off the current difference in estimates on the Ellis pool project between FEMA’s estimate and the one provided by the city consultants.

Council member Kris Gulick agreed the current estimate figures didn’t matter.

The key, Gulick said, was to correctly chronicle all of the particulars of the damage on the worksheet that the city submits to FEMA. In the end, FEMA apparently will pay the actual cost -– revealed in the contractors’ bids and the actual construction cost -– if FEMA agrees on just what was damaged in the first place.

In the first couple months after the flood and in the months since, FEMA has publicized what it thinks damage awards will be on several of the largest city items damaged in the flood. At one point, FEMA even sent out a memo questioning the hiring of consultants to add up damages.

City Hall here continued on its way.

In the end, the back and forth between City Hall and FEMA might have big value for the taxpayer. Few would want the federal government to simply hand over all that the city asked for. And at the same time, FEMA could end up wanting to spend less rather than more in Cedar Rapids. The true figure likely will be somewhere short of the city’s estimates and somewhat more than FEMA’s.

It’s called bureaucracy, isn’t it?

It is the same thing that is frustrating so many owners of flood-damaged homes as they wait for state, federal and local governments to try to tally up just what is appropriate to spend on a particular renovation project.

As for the Ellis Park pool, city staff members were preparing not to open it this summer.

However, the City Council now has pushed to open it. The council has given the impression that having someone splash around in the pool might provide the community with a little bit of a psychological lift. The expected opening date is July 13 if the renovation can be started by April 20, city staff members report.

The long-range future of the Ellis pool is still under review, Julie Sina, the city’s parks and recreation director,told the council last week. Prior to the 2008 flood, attendance had been dropping at the Ellis pool, in part, because of the newer, better pools at Cherry Hill Park, Noelridge Park, Bever Park and Jones Park. The changing demographics in the Ellis area also might have been playing a role, Sina said.

In 2005, 22,973 people used the Ellis Pool; in 2006, 19,468; in 2007, 17,475. In 2008, 602 did before the mid-June flood closed the venue for the year.

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