A mock-up of a proposed indoor athletic facility for Wesley Chapel District Park from 2004.

Plans to build a $3-million indoor athletic facility at the Wesley Chapel District Park (WCDP) are moving forward, following some heated debate at the Jan. 22 Pasco Board of County Commissioners (BOC) meeting about whether or not the commissioners should delay it.

At the BOC meeting, where commissioners were expected to approve the choice of the construction company tabbed by county staff to build the facility, District 4 commissioner Mike Wells seemed put off by the lack of notes by evaluation committee members in the committee’s final recommendation of Wannemacher Jensen Architects.

Comm. Wells said he wanted to see the notes the staffers took to make their final decision, which was unanimous. And, because those notes weren’t available, he suggested, “that all of the proposals be rejected and that the project be re-solicited.”

Requiring that every company that submitted bids and presentations do so again would delay the project by as much as six months.

The Consent Agenda is usually a list of items that the county staff has recommended for BOC approval. Sometimes, but rarely, items are pulled from the Agenda to correct a mistake, or to be debated. Wells pulled the Wesley Chapel facility item from the Consent Agenda, something he said he has done only one other time in his career as a commissioner.

“It’d be nice to be able to go back and look at the notes,” Wells said.

County purchasing director Stacy Ziegler told the BOC that proper procedure was followed during the selection process, and that tapes of those meetings are public.

“We followed a process that we have been following for the last six months, since we updated our purchasing manual,” Ziegler said. “We feel we’ve done our due diligence and our recommendation should stand.”

Wells, as well as District 5 Commissioner Jack Mariano — who originally seconded Wells’ motion to reject the selection — seemed miffed that Spring Engineering, Inc., wasn’t chosen.

Spring Engineering and its CEO, Richard Bekesh, each donated $1,000 to Wells’ reelection campaign in 2017.

Located in Holiday, FL, Spring Engineering was ranked as the seventh choice out of nine by the county’s evaluation committee, which was made up of assistant county administrator Erik Breitenbach, director of facilities management Andrew Baxter, chief project manager of the facilities management department TJ Pyche, director of parks, recreation & natural resources Keith Wiley and Brian Taylor, the manager of parks, recreation and natural resources.

Comm. Mariano said the county should be pushing local companies, and he had a problem with Spring Engineering, a local company, not making the top two, even though he did not attend any of the evaluation meetings. In fact, he and Wells both hinted at including county commissioners on the evaluation committees in the future, and later Mariano even suggested the companies should re-present to the commission.

Mike Moore, the commissioner for District 2, which includes most of Wesley Chapel, was visibly frustrated by Wells’ maneuverings, and argued that redoing the entire process would be a waste of time, and unfair to the companies bidding — as well as to the Wesley Chapel residents awaiting the new facility.

“If you go through the whole process and they write comments down and the results are exactly the same, then what?,” Moore asked.

Moore has been a proponent of building the indoor facility at WCDP, where the Wesley Chapel Athletic Association runs youth leagues in a variety of sports. The WCAA’s basketball leagues are currently held on outdoor courts, a less-than-ideal setting considering Florida’s hot and often rainy climate. 

An indoor gymnasium would allow the basketball leagues to be played indoors. It also would create an opportunity for gymnastics and volleyball leagues to be played, as well as adult recreation sports like pickleball.

The 13,000-sq.-ft. recreation center would also have meeting rooms and offer local residents a place to gather for meetings, exercise classes and parties.

Moore said he thinks more than 1,000 local athletes and residents will be impacted by the facility.

“There are a lot of people waiting for this to be done,” Moore told his fellow commissioners. “They need this to happen on the timeline we said it was going to happen.”

The idea for an indoor facility at the WCDP, which is currently just a collection of lacrosse, soccer, baseball and softball fields, with outdoor basketball courts and three tennis courts, has been bandied about since 2005, but the money hasn’t been available to build it.

The county has allocated $2.5-million towards the project, which comes from developer impact fees, Moore said, and could be completed by summer 2020.

Last October, the county officially solicited bids for the project, reaching out to 551 vendors via email, including 34 from Pasco County. Nine responses were received, and Spring Engineering was the lone bidder from the county.

On Nov. 29, the evaluation committee independently scored the proposals, settling on a final four of two firms from St. Petersburg and two from Tampa. On Jan. 3, the remaining firms gave presentations to the committee, and all five members ranked Wannemacher Jensen Architects, Inc., of St. Petersburg, No. 1.

Harvard Jolly, Inc., also based in St. Petersburg, was named No. 2 by four of the five committee members.

Wells seemed perturbed that there was a wide difference in rating points between some of the firms during the process, seeming to suggest that those results somehow made the process flawed. Mariano hinted at some sort of bias. Spring Engineering, for example, was scored an 82 by one committee member, but only 46 by two others. 

 “This is about picking the most qualified person, and I don’t think we did that,” Wells said.

Following the debate, Wells again motioned for the recommendation to be rejected, but Mariano declined to second it and it passed 4-1.

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