Wash. Sq. project is revised after overbudget bids

By Lincoln Anderson

A total of three bids for the construction work for phase one of the Washington Square Park renovation plan were received by the Parks Department last month and all were way over budget. Parks is now “rescoping” the bid and will reissue another bid request.

Warner Johnston, a Parks spokesperson, said, “On April 28, we formally rejected the three bids we received as too high. They came in at about $111/2 million to $12 million. We’re going to refine the bids and rebid the project.” The bids had come in a few weeks before Parks rejected them, he said.

Johnston said the department is “rescoping” the bid, but declined to go into details. He said the changes might include certain types of materials or stipulations on where certain materials should come from.

Parks has set the price tag for the entire renovation project at $16 million. The project is to be done in two consecutive phases, each of which would require closing half the park for a year, while the other half would remain open. Phase one includes the restoration of the park’s fountain and moving it about two-dozen feet east to align precisely with Fifth Ave. through the Washington Square Arch.

“It’s not unusual for bids to come in too high and it’s not unusual for us to rebid the project,” Johnston said. Johnston said that because Parks lets out bids for “hundreds and hundreds of projects” each year, the department has a database it uses to judge whether a bid is too high.

Because of having to modify phase one, Johnston said the start of the project, previously set for July, has now been delayed.

“Things have changed a bit since we’re going to be rebidding the project,” he said. Asked what the project’s new start date is, Johnston said, “I don’t have the answer to that question.”

Parks doesn’t have a date for when it will reissue the bid either.

“We don’t have a timeline,” Johnston said. “We’re finding some changes and we’ll be putting it out [for bid] again.”

The modifications are significant enough that the plans must go back to the Landmarks Preservation Commission — which approved the last version — for another review. At some point, there would be a public hearing at Landmarks on the newly revised plans.

Some opponents of the renovation are charging that Parks secretly plans to shrink the size of the park’s central plaza around the fountain more than allowed under the agreement between Parks and Councilmembers Alan Gerson and Christine Quinn. The antis nervously note that no one from Parks signed the document.

However, Johnston said, “We are honoring our agreement with Councilmembers Gerson and Quinn. We are working on the exact size of the plaza.” Gerson and Quinn’s stipulations state that the renovated fountain plaza “will be no less than 90 percent of the current area.”

“It wasn’t a contract. It was an agreement which we intend to honor,” Johnston explained.

In addition, the Parks spokesperson countered project opponents’ claims that what was put out for bid did not conform with the plans shown at the Art Commission public hearing in January at which the commission gave its approval to moving the fountain. Johnston said what was put out to bid “wasn’t significantly different” from what was shown at the Art Commission, but that if it had been, the new plans would have had to have gone back for review to the Landmarks Preservation Commission and Art Commission.

Edy Selman, of the Washington Pl. Block Association and a member of Emergency Coalition to Save Washington Square Park — a group suing to stop the project — said she expected the revised plan will now also have to go back to Community Board 2 for a vote. With new members on the board, she hopes this time the October 2005 resolution by the board’s Waterfront and Parks Committee, written by its chairperson Arthur Schwartz, will be approved.

“Arthur Schwartz’s resolution is the solution to the problem — not moving the fountain or leveling the plaza,” Selman said.