Ames council votes to forgo walking track, multipurpose room in indoor aquatic center

Danielle Gehr
Ames Tribune

The Ames City Council voted Tuesday to pursue only a portion of the indoor aquatic center plan at this time to avoid a $1.6 million shortfall — the second city project with a shortfall of this size within the last month. 

The planned Fitch Family Indoor Aquatic Center will stay within its budget by forgoing the 9,000-square-foot east addition, which will be bid at a later date. 

The east addition alone, which would include a multi-purpose room and an indoor walking track, is estimated to cost $2.9 million more than what was estimated. The council plans to pursue this part of the project at a later date when the city has the budget for it.  The council also voted to hire Story Construction for the project Tuesday. 

More local: 515 Day celebrates community in downtown Ames this weekend

The project estimate was originally $27.5 million but was raised to $31 million last year. Last month, a project estimate of the Ames Downtown Plaza showed a $1 million shortfall from the $4.5 million budgeted for the project. 

The city anticipates a $10 million tax rebate will cover a third of the aquatic center project as part of the Iowa Reinvestment District Program — though this has not yet been approved. Ames Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Dan Culhane is also fundraising another $10 million for the project. The remaining cost will be covered by a general obligation bond the council approved last year. 

The council also heard recommended changes to the downtown plaza project to reduce the shortfall, including eliminating an art wall, moonstone seating and paver chessboard. The recommended changes will save the city more than $218,000, bringing to shortfall down to $740,500. The council will approve the project bid at a future meeting. 

Councilmember Anita Rollins asked if some aspects eliminated from the project could be incorporated later, and councilmember Gloria Betcher asked how they could assure they remain a priority. Parks & Recreation director Keith Abraham said these aspects can be added to the Capital Improvements Plan during the city's budgeting season next year. 

"It's a good idea to try and keep art as part of the overall concept," mayor John Haila said. "I think it also acts as a visual break between the plaza and also the drive-up area adjacent to it."

Also at Tuesday's meeting, the council voted to join the Mid-Iowa Planning Alliance, a non-profit that supports communities in part by notifying them of state and federal grant opportunities and offering grant-writing services. 

Part of the motivation to join this organization, at a cost of $12,455 for the year, is the recent shortfalls, city manager Steve Schainker said.

"In the past, I've been leery about recommending we join some of these metropolitan planning organizations," Schainker said. "As you know, many of our projects are coming in over budget, and I think there's going to be more pressure on staff to look at outside resources to fund the projects."

Danielle Gehr is a politics and government reporter for the Ames Tribune. She can be reached by email at dgehr@gannett.com, phone at (515) 663-6925 or on Twitter at @Dani_Gehr.