The City of Soldotna is mulling whether or not to remove a connector building from the scope of the Soldotna Field House Project after a new estimate puts the project cost significantly higher than the city expected.
That’s according to project leads, who convened with members of the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday to talk about the field house project.
The Soldotna City Council first designated money for work associated with the Soldotna Field House in 2015. After the project went before voters in October 2018, the initiative failed by just 18 votes. The city took the project up again last summer, and city voters last fall gave the city permission to incur up to $15 million in debt for the project.
The 42,000-square-foot field house will be built next to the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. When completed, the field house would feature a 215-foot-by-115-foot play area with removable turf that would allow for soccer, football and batting cages. The sports court could host wrestling, volleyball and roller derby.
The three-lane track on the second floor would be available for walkers and runners. Indoor recreation is in addition to the other activities the facility could facilitate, the city said, such as private parties, sports camps and trade shows.
The project cost estimate in June 2022 was about $18.3 million. In April 2023, the estimate for the same project jumped to $28 million, including additional parking areas. The city was able to bring that estimate down to $21.3 million by eliminating extra site work and as of Wednesday was waiting for a new cost estimate for the project without the connector building.
Architects Joanna Croft and Molly Logelin, who attended Wednesday’s work session on behalf of Burkhart Croft Architects, said some of the major cost increases came from $3.2 million in additional site work and a corresponding bump in the amount needed for general requirements and contingency funds, which increased by about $1.4 million.
Soldotna Public Works Director Kyle Kornelis told city council members during Wednesday’s work session that the city has been working to identify potential cost savings since receiving the higher estimate, such as eliminating altogether the building connecting the field house and the sports complex, bidding the project in phases and waiting for a better bidding environment.
“It’s been all hands on deck for quite a few weeks and months now as we’ve tried to mitigate the surprising cost estimate that we got recently,” Kornelis said Wednesday.
The major cost estimates associated with the project, Kornelis said, include the metal building, the structure that will connect the field house to the sports complex, site work, furniture and furnishings, and contingency funds to be used if the cost estimates are off.
Council members on Wednesday were generally in agreement that some aspect of the field house project should be put out to bid as soon as possible. The project’s price tag, Kornelis said, has only gone up since the project was last considered in 2018, and may therefore continue to become more expensive.
Soldotna Mayor Paul Whitney agreed that there is a competitive bid environment, but said that Soldotna has a head start on some of the other projects that will be constructed in the same area. Also approved by central Kenai Peninsula voters last October were bonds for the construction of a new fire station in Soldotna and a new Soldotna Elementary School.
“Probably we should have built this in 2018 when it was a little more reasonable, but that didn’t happen,” Whitney said. “I think one of the big reasons to get it out right now is some of these other large projects in the area aren’t going to be starting going out to bid for maybe a year or two years, so we’ve got a little bit of a head start on those.”
Council member Jordan Chilson questioned how much of the total project cost the second-floor indoor track accounts for. While he supports having a track in the field house, he said council members should have as much information as possible before deciding whether or not to move the project forward with cuts.
Council members overwhelmingly said that the track is a necessary element of the project.
“It was sold with the track; it’s got to have that track,” said council member Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings. “I mean, if you’re not going to the track in, then I think you’ve lost a lot of the community support because this is something that they really bought into.”
Kornelis presented to council members a strategy for paying for a $20 million project. Using the updated $21.3 million cost estimate, eliminating the $2.7 million connector building and moving forward with an alternative parking additive at $1.4 million, the net cost is $20 million.
To pay for that, the city would use its $15 million bond, $3.5 million from the city’s general fund, $750,000 in remaining federal COVID-19 relief funds and $825,000 moved from other city projects. Once the initial bid is put out, the city would have about $2.5 million in other costs that could be covered with grant opportunities the city is pursuing.
“We’ll make sure we keep the council up to speed and particularly if there’s any changes from what we’ve laid out today,” Kornelis said. “But right now we feel like this is our path to success.”
Wednesday’s Soldotna City Council work session can be streamed on the city’s website at soldotna.org.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at email@example.com.