After six months of delays, the Town of Beaufort is moving on to the next step in the Randolph Johnson Memorial Park renovation: Construction.
Tuesday afternoon Town Engineer Greg Meshaw opened bids from three contractors for building, paving and grounds work. Waters Contracting of Newport provided the lowest bid, which the town is legally required to accept.
Parks & Recreation Coordinator Rachel Johnson said town staff plan to take Waters’ proposal before the town Board of Commissioners Nov. 18. The park is scheduled to open next year.
Randolph Johnson Park, located at Pine St. and Carteret Ave., was originally scheduled to open this summer. It is the only playground-type park owned and maintained by the town.
The renovated park will also include a playground, water-play “splash pad” area, but all of that play equipment has been sitting in storage since February, waiting on plans that were expected earlier this year.
“I’m so passionate about this project, and I’m so frustrated about this project,” Johnson said. “We were waiting on the engineers and architects to complete the construction drawing that was due in January ,”
In October 2018, the town awarded the park’s engineering work to Ron Cullipher of The Cullipher Group of Morehead City, and its landscape and architecture work to Jay Horton of Jay Horton Designs, also of Morehead City.
The two firms are separate entities that worked in tandem, with Cullipher’s engineering work dependent on Horton’s landscape and architecture design.
Cullipher, Horton and the town agreed that the final site plans, building plans and permits for the park would be delivered by Jan. 15, 2019.
Johnson said when a first draft of the construction plans were delivered in December, 2018, they did not match up with the master plan. The town requested several rounds of revisions between then and July of this year.
Three email chains acquired from the town show several inquiries made by town staff as to the status of the plans.
One email, sent the evening of June 20, includes a terse request from Town Engineer Meshaw to Cullipher and Horton to answer why the project was “not already underway.”
Cullipher responded the next morning asking Horton to give him a “commitment on the plans” so he could get the drawings signed and sealed.
“We need to give Greg [Meshaw] our best available information,” he added.
Plans that Johnson said the town could “work with” were finally delivered in July.
Horton said the project took longer than anticipated because of the challenges presented by the park’s layout.
“Two of the major elements of the park, the splash pad and the play structures, were predetermined in size, so we had to make sure that the elements fit safely into the footprint and in a complimentary fashion with regards to the overall design,” Horton said.
“In addition to those elements, a sizable bathhouse/picnic shelter, music garden, picnic and open play area, walking trails, etc., were also requested. Putting all of these elements together in a way that pleases the administration, the public, and the design team, is sometimes challenging.”
Horton said these types of revisions are part of the design process and are not uncommon.
“We regret that the project took longer than anticipated, but we look forward to seeing a successfully implemented design, and one that children and adults alike will enjoy for many years to come,” he said.
Riverside & Associates of Greenville, the firm that designed the park’s master concept, had also provided an estimate on the engineering and architecture work. Johnson said that firm’s fee ended up being nearly three times higher than that of Horton and Cullipher, making it an easy decision to go with local contractors.
“We thought we were doing right by hiring someone local at a much reduced price, and they’ve done phenomenal work in the past,” she said.
Cullipher, who Johnson said continues a positive working relationship with the town on other projects, did not respond to a phone message asking for comment by press time.