Park faces budget woes

C. Lacy Compton Park in the Southbridge development at Cherry Hill is facing cost overruns that have required the Prince William Park Authority to once again scramble for funding.

Although $580,000 was donated from a non-profit corporation two years ago for a park to be built on the Cherry Hill peninsula, the park authority is $90,000 short of the cost of completion.

It’s a familiar story for the semi-independent county agency which is battling a history of overspending on park projects.

Inability to stay within budget on another park — Valley View at Brentsville — prompted the board of county supervisors last month to investigate contracting and require increased county supervision over park projects. Part of the authority’s annual budget is provided by the county, with the rest derived from fees at recreational facilities.

Valley View Park is expected to cost $2.4 million more than the $3 million taxpayers approved in a 1998 bond referendum.

About a million in other park projects was delayed for a year to finish Valley View and now money will be diverted from the park authority’s internal Beaver Creek fund, created from the sale of park authority property, to complete the Compton Park.

County and park authority officials say Compton park will be state of the art with the county’s first in-line skating facility, and a pavilion, tot lot, volley ball court and trails.

“It’s going to be a wonderful place, the first of its kind in the county, and it will serve the Cherry Hill community, Southbridge and River Oaks,” said Hilda Barg, Woodbridge district supervisor.

The saga of C. Lacy Compton Park began two years ago when the park authority received a donation of $580,000 from Cockpit Point Corporation — a non-profit corporation formed 40 years ago by area businesses and the late district court judge C. Lacy Compton to encourage industrial development along the Potomac River. When that didn’t happen its remaining funds were donated to the county to build a park somewhere on the Cherry Hill peninsula.

The original $530,000 donated was for purchase of the land and general park development, with $49,000 earmarked for in-line skating facilities.

“The park authority knew exactly what their budget was from day one,” said Lacy Compton Jr. “We made no commitment we would pay an unlimited amount of money — it was a finite gift. I didn’t conceive they would go out and spend more money than they had.”

Compton is a Woodbridge attorney and the son of the man for whom the park was named. He did the legal work for the corporation when it went out of business. Originally the authority planned and designed a park within the amount of money that was donated, he said.

But something happened along the way.

After purchasing the property for about $100,000 which left $430,000 of the original donation to develop the park, the cost for completion was $540,000, leaving the job $90,000 short.

Bids came in much higher than expected, ranging from $685,370 to $764,445, in what has been a continuing problem for the authority.

“This is my worst nightmare,” Woodbridge Park Authority board member Stewart Christiano said at the board’s Sept. 25 meeting. “Maybe you shouldn’t accept money offered to you,” he added.

Later he called the donation a generous offer and said his frustration stemmed from the long delays in getting the project finished. It’s a small park but it took a year and a half to finish and had to be rebid several times in order to get it closer to budget, he said. The park is scheduled to open in November.

From the park authority’s perspective, its cost overruns often stem from efforts to keep up with the public’s needs. Community meetings and public hearings before the park authority board two years ago identified the need for an in-line skating facility, not a ball field as originally planned.

“We’re not building the same facility as master planned,” said Beth Robertson, park authority spokeswoman. “We have high standards and we try to give the people what they want.”

In Compton Park’s case, money from the Beaver Creek fund and $19,000 from Christiano’s district funds will be used to make up the difference. But too often, the park authority has had to turn to the county board of supervisors for additional funding.

The overruns at Valley View last month will lead to a major overhaul at the park authority. The board of county supervisors last month directed park authority executive director Peggy Thompson to meet with County Executive Craig Gerhart to find a way to coordinate project management. Thompson has suggested hiring an outside contractor to monitor park authority projects rather than performing that function in-house.

Staff writer Diane Freda can be reached at (703) 878-4723.

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