Public-private partnership approved to jumpstart park plans

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Conceptual drawing courtesy of the Town of Christiansburg
Option 1 is what Christiansburg is now considering for a new recreation park behind Home Depot and Walmart, located along Peppers Ferry Road.

Marty Gordon

Plans for a large park near Peppers Ferry Road in Christiansburg took another step toward reality Tuesday night when council approved a public-private partnership with Faulconer Construction for the park’s design.

The Virginia Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act of 2002 grants local and state governments the ability to enter into partnerships with private entities to complete qualifying projects, like building schools and parks.

The notion is to bring private sector expertise to public projects, while encouraging innovative approaches to financing construction and/or renovation according to town documents.

The design work will now center on Option 1 for the former Truman Wilson Farm, which will include two dog parks, picnic shelters, walking trails and three multi-purpose fields.

Town spokesperson Melissa Demmitt said the agreement is for design and does not commit to construction of the park.

If town council decides to move forward with construction of the park, they will enter into a separate contract,” she said.

Mayor Michael Barber said he was happy to see progress.

It’s time for it to move forward, and I’m excited to see the design that comes out of this agreement,” he said.

The Regional Park 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.

Council selected Option 1 cutting the cost down to $16 million, eliminating items like a splash park, amphitheater and fast-pitch softball field. The town could revisit all of those amenities at a later date to include them in a Phase II plan.

In October of last year, the town advertised for proposals from private companies and received responses from Branch and Associates, EC Pace Company and Faulconer Construction Company. Since then, a special committee of council members, town staff and citizens have met to narrow down the list.

Council has met behind closed doors several times over the past eight months and Tuesday night, the group came out of another closed session to vote 6-0 for the contract.

The initial idea of a park began in 2013 with the purchase of the 62-acre site, known as the Truman-Wilson Farm near Peppers Ferry Road. The town then designated the park for recreational use and set an additional goal of a road connecting Peppers Ferry Road and Cambria Street.

In December, 2014, the town issued a Request for Proposals, an 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 included 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 plan 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 PPEA.

The winning or preferred proposal has not been announced and citizens like Chris Waltz said the town has not been fair to the public.

When quizzed about the matter, he said town manager Randy Wingfield told him details would remain confidential because they were proprietary.

Councilman Harry Collins, who headed up the committee that reviewed the plans, said no final decision has been made to build or not to build under any of the proposals.

Virginia has been a leader in the development of the public-private partnerships 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 a new high school in Blacksburg being 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. Other experience includes 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 Truman-Wilson Park.

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.

Demmitt said no timetable has been specified at this time, but there is an original design that can be used in preparation with the plan.

The town has also approved over $400,000 for design of a road that will bring patrons off of 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.