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Sports fields project faces tight deadline to receive state grant money

With a deadline to complete the current phase of the Vashon Fields Project and receive state grant money just weeks away, a professional construction manager told Vashon Park District officials last week that the remaining work exceeds what volunteers can reasonably be expected to complete.

The problem-plagued fields project is facing a June 30 deadline to complete specific work at the site and receive $152,000 from the state’s Recreation and Conservation Funding Board. If the work is not completed by the June deadline, the district could forfeit all of the grant money, worsening the financial picture of the cash-strapped district. Because of its difficult financial situation, officials say, the park district is relying on volunteers to provide most of the labor at the project north of town.

Mitch Treese, the principal of a Vashon construction firm and the vice chair of the district’s recently formed Oversight Committee, told parks commissioners at last week’s meeting that given the progress of the project, there is too much for volunteers to do in such a short period of time.

“On virtually all our items, except one or two, we are behind schedule,” he said. “It’s a recipe for disaster.”

Not only is there too much work to do, Treese explained, but some supplies have not yet been ordered, and delivery could take up to 10 days, further eating into the construction schedule. Even the most well-meaning volunteers have limited time and energy, he stressed, and they cannot complete tasks as quickly as professionals.

“What would take a pro a few days, a group of volunteers would take a month,” he said.

With $152,000 hanging in the balance, he recommended that commissioners attempt to find funds to hire more of the project out, ensuring they meet the June 30 deadline.

“With $50,000, you would buy yourself an insurance policy that would make the problem go away,” he said.

However, officials say the park district doesn’t have an extra $50,000. What’s more, it is already slated to spend $249,000 on the project between now and the end of June, $152,000 of which it hopes to get back in grant money.

Some park district officials, however, are holding out hope that the district will get the job done in time without putting out more money.

Asked to weigh in at the meeting, park board Chair Joe Wald said he believes volunteers are still capable of doing the job.

Treese also suggested that the park district hire a part-time assistant for the next two months to work with site supervisor Mike Mattingly, an hourly employee. Mattingly’s time would be used best at the fields, Treese said, not tending to the administrative tasks that accompany the project. Such an assistant would cost the district about $2,000 a month, he said. The commissioners agreed to this suggestion, and park district General Manager Elaine Ott said last week that she hoped to have that person in place soon.

Commissioners recommended enhancing the project’s volunteer base and putting some of the pieces of the project out to bid so that professionals could be called upon if needed to finish the job on time.

Commissioners also determined they would try to have Wald and Ott talk directly with the head of the funding board, rather than the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) staff they have been working with, to see if the district may get another extension on the grant.

The issue of an extension is complicated in part because the funding board does not meet again until June 25.

At RCO in Olympia, Deputy Director Scott Robinson said he and Laura Moxham, the project’s grants manager, remain concerned about the fields project.

Two weeks ago, RCO staff came to Vashon to conduct two audits, he said, one a fiscal audit related to the project and the other of the fields themselves. The fiscal audit was not complete as of Monday, Robinson said, because the district had to supply two more pieces of information., At the fields, however, RCO staff said they had hoped to see more work completed.

While the funding board determines whether extensions are given in grants more than four years old — which Vashon’s is — RCO staff want to see more progress before determining if they will even take extension requests to the board.

“At a point when we’ll think they’ll succeed, we’ll make a determination if we give them more time,” he said.

Told of the board’s plan to reach out to the chair of the funding board directly, Robinson said commissioners and Ott are free to make that contact, but stressed that all decisions must be considered and approved in a public meeting. RCO employees make recommendations to the board, he added, but any decision by the board could go either way.

“It’s not a slam dunk,” he said.

Robinson said his office is still committed to working with the district to make the fields happen. However, they must look to find the balance between helping the Vashon community and being good stewards of state money.

A tour of the fields with Mattingly last week showed the challenges ahead. While the teams have been playing on some of the fields since last fall, the baseball fields are clearly still diamonds in the rough, with no backstops, bleachers or fences. Concrete has only been poured at one of the baseball fields; the parking areas still need grading and the perimeter of the park needs fencing.

Mattingly said he would ordinarily agree with Treese’s assessment that the project needs more help from professionals, but in this case he disagrees.

“I have faith in the volunteers and this community,” he said.

But completing the project will take a commitment from many people.

“Going the way we’ve been going, it’s going to take an extra effort,” he said.

Over the past two months, he said, volunteers from the baseball, soccer and lacrosse communities have given hundreds of hours of their time and effort, and three island contractors have donated time as well. While those efforts will continue, more bodies are needed — there are tasks for kids as well as adults.

Last weekend, some progress was made, with 10 volunteers working on Sunday morning and early afternoon, Mattingly said.

Treese said that as a member of the committee, his role is not to find money, but to make recommendations.

“We can bring the board daylight that is necessary to see a clear picture before it runs over them,” he said.

The stakes in the project are high, he noted, and he believes it is important to keep the purpose of the fields in mind.

“You walk around this park in full swing and see … kids smiling and running around. That’s what you should be remembering,” he said.

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