By Marty Gordon
New conceptual drawings were unveiled Monday night for a proposed 70-acre super park in Christiansburg.
At an open house, developers and town staff gave the public a glimpse what the park, to be located behind Home Depot and Walmart, could look like. But in no way, according to town staff, were the drawings an illustration of the final product.
Town spokesperson Melissa Demmiitt said the purpose of the open house was to provide an update to residents about where the town is in the process of designing the proposed park.
“The contractors working on the design and the town wanted to collect feedback from residents so that those comments can be taken into consideration as the design process moves forward,” she said.
Monday night, residents and other members of the public were able to look at plans for a connector road from Peppers Ferry Road to Cambria Street, lights and buffers for the park and the overall master plan.
“We received questions on these topics and had a lot of comments in the comment box by the end of the night,” Demmitt said. “We’ll be reviewing the comments with the design team and will likely share those at the next public meeting, scheduled for October 7.”
In July, the town council approved a public-private partnership with Faulconer Construction for design of the park. The design work centered on Option 1 for the former Truman Wilson Farm near Peppers Ferry Road, which will include two dog parks, picnic shelters, walking trails and three multi-purpose fields. A fourth multi-purpose field will also added after a recommendation from the design team.
The Regional Park Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act (PPEA) Committee reviewed proposals from three companies and negotiated with the top-ranked proposer, Faulconer, to get to this point. But the process has been a long, technical one that has allowed the town to cut back the entire project and its $36 million price tag.
The city council selected to use the proposal designated as Option 1 that cut the project cost down to $16 million and eliminated items like a splash park, an amphitheater and a fast-pitch softball field. The council could revisit all of these at a later date and include them in a Phase II plan.
The Virginia PPEA Act of 2002 enables public bodies like the town to partner with private entities to bring private sector expertise on public projects, while encouraging innovative approaches to financing construction and/or renovation.
The town advertised for proposals from private companies and received three from Branch and Associates, EC Pace Company and Faulconer Construction Company.
The city council met behind closed doors several times over the past year, but the project has been discussed for almost six years.
Councilman Harry Collins serves as the town’s PPEA committee chair and said he is happy to project is finally moving ahead. “I think this week’s meeting went great and feel we are now headed in the right direction,” he said.
The initial idea of a park began in 2013 with the purchase of the 62-acre site.
In December 2014, the town issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) to establish a contract with one or more qualified and experienced architectural and engineering firms to provide a conceptual park and recreational facility design for the property. An engineering and architectural design team lead by Gay and Neel, Inc. was placed under contract to complete a four-phase park development plan with passive and active recreational features. The four phases of study were transportation and commercial, recreation concept/layout, site grading and stormwater plan, and build-out scenarios with the associated costs.
Gay and Neel presented park development options and the associated costs at a scheduled council work session early last year, and the preferred option to advance the project, Option 1, was selected.
The initial plans included two dog parks, walking trails, picnic pavilions, a trailhead connection to the Huckleberry Trail and multi-use turf fields.
As part of the proposals submitted, each company had to provide a review fee of $10,000, which is typical in the public-private partnerships (PPEA).
Virginia has been a leader in the development of the PPEA with the largest project dating to 1995 with the construction of the Dulles Greenway from Route 28 to Leesburg.
Montgomery County has also taken advantage of the PPEA with the new high school in Blacksburg that was completed several years ago. This past fall, the school board voted to advertise for proposals for replacement of Belview Elementary and Christiansburg High schools. Tamkin Development Corporation submitted a $110 million plan to build a 750-capacity elementary school and increase the high school’s capacity to 1,400 students. Tamkin CEO Jeffery Tamkin told the board they would be able to obtain financing much quicker and at lower rates compared to the county as a whole.
Faulconer Construction Company, in association with Hurt and Proffitt and Hill Studios, has been involved with the town since the early beginnings of the park project. Faulconer’s other projects include softball field renovations at Liberty University, an indoor athletic training facility at Virginia Tech and Stuarts Draft Park in Stuart Draft, Virginia.
The company is also no stranger to the PPEA process, having performed in excess of $700 million in construction over the past 10 years.
Faulconer was the prime contractor on a new community park for Orange County, North Carolina, which include similar amenities to the Christiansburg one.
This is not the first time the town has turned to such an agreement with a private company. The Christiansburg Aquatic Center was built as a private-public partnership, and the Diamond Hills Stream Restoration project was also a private-public partnership.
The town has also approved more than $400,000 for design of a road that will bring patrons off Peppers Ferry Road and Route 114 into the new park. Three retail parcels will be sold with the town hoping to recoup some of the costs for the facility.
Demmitt said the design is funded in the current budget year. “If the town moves forward with the park, it will likely be paid for by a combination of bonds, monies from our General Fund, private contributions and grants,” she said.
The timetable now is aggressive with conceptual design slated to be completed by October with approval by Spring 2020 and construction tentatively scheduled for the summer of 2020.