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Trim Dunedin center's costs, officials say

A new estimate for the proposed community center at Highlander Park shows that the center will cost $12-million _ 25 percent more than what commissioners originally budgeted.

Rising construction costs, the desire to use the center as an emergency shelter, along with other site enhancements have driven the cost up $2.5-million, according to the architect Collman and Karsky.

Commissioners said Thursday the new cost was unacceptable.

"I think we're all disappointed," Commissioner Dave Eggers said. "For this thing to come in at $12-million absolutely floored me. Maybe what we need is a little bit more function and a little bit less flair."

The proposed center features a large multipurpose room that doubles as a gym, an exercise studio, recording studio and a satellite library where residents can pick up and drop off books. It would replace the aging center on Michigan Boulevard and Pinehurst Road.

Since the preliminary estimate, the architect re-evaluated the project. The firm found that the cost of concrete, masonry and steel had increased substantially and would add $810,000 to the overall price.

The scope of the project also expanded. The size grew from 52,500 square feet to 59,500.

In a memo, Rod Collman, the president of Collman and Karsky, said the community center would need among other things: a mezzanine floor above the back stage area for more storage, an outdoor restroom and walking trails, large generators and a smoke evacuation system in the lobby. He also recommended a $500,000 contingency fee as insurance against other market increases.

Commissioners on Thursday told recreation officials to work with the architect to bring the cost down.

"I just think obviously you have to get your pencils out and work on those numbers," Commissioner Julie Scales said. "Let us know what exactly is truly needed in this facility."

The size of the center would have to be reduced to 45,675 square feet in order to meet the $9.5-million budget, according to Tom Burke, the city engineer. That, though, would mean scaling back on some of the programs.

A recording studio, for example, would be out. The dressing rooms, bathrooms, classrooms and even the lobby would have to be smaller.

"From a staff perspective, I really don't want to start cutting programs out of the community center," said Harry Gross, director of leisure services.

Over the summer, Dunedin held a series of meetings to get input from the public about what programs they wanted. The architect even changed the design to address complaints from residents on Pinehurst Road.

Commissioners suggested Thursday having another workshop to make sure the quality of the facility is not compromised.

"At this point, I'm glad we haven't turned a spade of earth," Vice Mayor Deborah Kynes said. "We just brought in the Martin Luther King Center, a fabulous facility. As far as I know, we were very close to budget."

One of the reasons for the alarm is that Dunedin is planning to use Penny for Pinellas to fund the project.

When the Penny expires in 2010, the city will only have about $3.8-million left in the fund. The combined outstanding debt on the newly opened Martin Luther King Jr. center and the proposed community center would be $9.5-million.

And there are other things the city may want, such as a new library, a new pool and a consolidated government center, Eggers said.

"I think we're all disappointed," he said. "We were ready to get going on this project. We just have a limit to what we can do."

Megan Scott can be reached at 445-4167 or