Hoboken council not yet convinced on OK’ing $345k for park improvements

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After a lengthy discussion, the Hoboken City Council opted not to vote on a resolution that would approve spending nearly $345,000, which was not previously budgeted, on Southwest Park.

The city council was set to vote on approving four change orders for Flanagan’s Contracting Group Inc. worth $344,792.41 for their work on Southwest Park, which reflects a 15.54 percent increase from the original budget.

Early on in the discussion, Council members Tiffanie Fisher and Dave Mello wanted to know what happened to the playground equipment that was originally supposed to be part of the project.

“I’ll ask Councilman Mello, I think he remembers, there was some sort of children’s play structure that wasn’t built?,” Fisher questioned.

“The children’s play area, to my understanding, because there were so many overages … the administration was trying to avoid an overage, so they just decided not to do the children’s play area, I believe it was roughly what, $250,000?,” Mello responded.

“We figured we could save the money by not doing, creating the wall area that was depicted on rendering that were put in front of the public. Is that correct or no?”

Business Administrator Stephen Marks tried to provide clarity on what was in front of the council yesterday evening.

“So there are four change orders on this change order list. The first one was … $264,524, which was for the cost of contaminated soil. So most of the soil on site was considered distraught fill, which is what you typically find in a community, are such as Hoboken.”

When answering questions from 4th Ward Councilman Ruben Ramos, Marks added that all change orders have to be approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection, leading to further inquiries from 1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco.

“Director Marks, there’s an email included here that shows the cost of cleaner and removal dated Monday, April 11th. This administration seems to be well aware of this charge before the October 18th carting date and certainly before this council was asked for its overage,” DeFusco stated.

” … You knew there was contaminated soil. You waited for somebody else to tell you that it needed to be carted away and now, after an election, you’re asking for a massive overage from this council.”

Marks assured the councilman that every overage has been presented in a timely fashion  and offered to have Suburban Engineering, the city’s construction inspector, explain the process in more detail at an upcoming council meeting.

Hoboken Councilman-at-Large/Mayor-elect Ravi Bhalla said that although the work associated with the change orders had already been performed, it was still possible for the council to vote the resolution down.

Ramos, an advocate for the project for the past decade, expressed frustration with how much the park has run over budget, calling it a “very, very, very expensive dog run.”

“Right now, we’re looking at a very, very, very expensive dog run and that’s about it, up to this point. We can come back with another change order, or addition, for the playground equipment, because we’re not going to allow the park to sit like that,” exclaimed Ramos.

“This is potentially going to cost us $942,314.16 in overruns. We’ve Director Marks over and over again: ‘We have a project consultant, they oversaw the whole thing.’ What were they looking at the entire time that we had almost a million dollars in potential overruns?”

Council President Jen Giattino opted to have the item removed from the agenda after the council agreed they weren’t ready to vote on the measure.

Last month, the council approved a measure that would allow the city to accept a new appraisal for a small parcel of land owned by Academy Bus. They are expected to be offered $5.3 million for the property, which will be a part of the Southwest Park expansion.

Back in February, the governing body OK’ed giving the city the ability to use imminent domain to acquire the aforementioned land if necessary.

This isn’t the first time in recent memory that Southwest Park has created some controversy among Hoboken officials.

In September, city officials held two separate ribbon cuttings for the Southwest Park after Ramos and Mello were miffed by the fact they, as well as most city residents, could not attend a ceremony held in the middle of the day.

They responded by holding an event the next day, which was a Saturday.

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