OCEAN CITY — The major upgrade and expansion of the town’s public works campus and transit facilities at 65th Street is moving closer to a spring groundbreaking, but a casualty of soaring construction costs are the proposed multi-level parking garage and rooftop medevac pad planned for the site.
For the last decade, Public Works Director Hal Adkins has been working on a major renovation and expansion of the department’s vast complex that runs along the bayside roughly from 64th Street to 67th Street. The public works complex, which includes administrative offices, bus and transit equipment storage and fueling, solid waste, maintenance and a myriad of other services, was last upgraded in 1983 and the department has outgrown the aging facilities.
The total project cost is $29 million, of which the town will pay about $11 million. The balance will come from the Maryland Transit Authority with some federal funding passed through the state. Included in the project was a proposed four-story, multi-level parking garage to support the hundreds of employees from the various departments that work at the public works campus. Planned for the roof of the proposed multi-level parking garage was a permanent centralized medevac helicopter pad.
Adkins provided an update on the project on Tuesday for the Mayor and Council. It now appears the multi-level parking garage and medevac pad will be a casualty of higher than expected bids due largely to a robust construction and development economy.
“We have reached the point now where we’re actually ready to break ground,” he said. “Over the last months as we were heading into bidding, we were enlightened or warned by the MTA that the bids they were doing across the state were coming in nearly 10 percent high. The economy has come roaring back, the construction industry has come roaring back and prices are starting to escalate.”
Adkins explained the vast public works campus expansion was basically divided into two separate bids. The bulk of the project, including the administrative offices, bus and transit equipment storage and fueling, solid waste, maintenance and other services, were included in one bid, while the multi-level parking garage with the medevac pad were included in a separate bid. However, when the bids were opened in January, the project cost for both had soared.
“We anticipated a budget for both elements would come in around $28 million,” he said. “Unfortunately, if you add up the numbers, it comes in more like $34 million. After continuing discussions with our partners, I am informing the council that we are in position to move forward with the bulk of the project, and we are in position to reject the bids for the multi-level parking garage and medevac pad.”
With the elimination of the parking garage, the bulk of the project could be ready to break ground this spring. It would be completed in phases in order to allow the day-to-day operations at the campus to continue.
“If all goes well, we will actually break ground sometime in April,” said Adkins. “That part of the project is broken down into multiple phases. We have a very active complex as you know, and we can’t just shut down all of it at one time.”
However, eliminating the multi-level parking garage, at least for the time being, would create a deficit in the amount of parking needed for employees at the vast complex, Adkins told the Mayor and Council. The town is currently considering the future of the midtown firehouse and a potential relocation site under consideration is the parking lot at 65th Street in front of the Public Safety Building along Coastal Highway.
“If we unfortunately have to reject the multi-level parking garage, it begs the question what are we going to do about parking,” he said. “We did a very detailed parking analysis to determine what we currently have in parking, what we are going to lose and what is on the Town of Ocean City’s agenda for future capital improvements such as a firehouse at 65th Street and things of that sort.”
Adkins explained after consulting with all of the departments that use a portion of the vast complex at 65th Street, including the public works department, the Ocean City Police Department, the District Court and even Juvenile Services and the Ocean City Beach Patrol, the parking deficiency was calculated at 318 spaces. The proposed four-story parking garage would have included 350 spaces, which would have met the parking deficiency and then some.
Adkins said as an alternative when the funding came into question, he and the state and federal partners considered reducing the size of the facility from the proposed four-story garage to a three-story garage with the medevac pad on the roof, but the numbers still would not work and such a facility would only provide 238 parking spaces.
Instead, Adkins is proposing to upgrade an existing gravel lot on the campus with a new surface, a gatehouse, fencing, appropriate lighting and other features. Doing so would help meet the immediate parking needs and leave the door open for a future multi-level parking garage if and when funding became available.
“To do so, we do not give up on a future parking facility with the medevac pad,” he said. “I do not like to give up on anything. We will site other facilities and equipment around this surface lot so at a later date if funding was to become available, we will be sacrificing very little and we will be shovel-ready to rebid and build the parking garage. We just don’t have the money to do it at this time.”
In simplest terms, the bulk of the major public works campus expansion and renovation has been funded and could break ground as soon as April, but not included is funding for the proposed multi-level parking garage.
“Am I still comfortable and excited that we have one heck of a project about to break ground? Yes,” said Adkins. “It will fulfill the majority of the town’s mass transit and public works needs for the foreseeable future and many years to come.”
However, the loss of the parking garage and perhaps more importantly the rooftop medevac pad has made the project somewhat bittersweet for the long-time public works director who has been working on the project for a decade or more.
“Am I disappointed that we weren’t able to move forward with the elevated parking facility? Yes,” he said. “But I am looking at other angles to see if we can pursue that. I am excited about, but I really wanted to pull off both projects. Although I have nothing to do with the first-responders world, I really think this town needs a permanent medevac site and this was the ideal solution. I’m not going to give up on that.”