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  • Jordan D. Smith

Toan Park Renovations Continue Despite Pandemic Cost Increases

It’s become a familiar refrain; nearly a cliche to say that the past year and a half of the COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every area of society in some way. As the pandemic wanes and many areas of the economy ramp back up nowhere is that effect being felt so keenly as in the construction industry. While the pandemic was at its height in January of this past year when the Portland Downtown Development Authority (DDA) prepared to launch plans for the Toan Park renovation estimates of the effect that COVID would have on the cost of supplies and labor fell far short of the reality of a mere six months later.

While most people only became aware of the plans to build a splash pad and overhaul Toan Park when the DDA announced the fundraising effort earlier this spring, the effort has actually been in the works for several years now. According to DDA director Tina Connor-Wellman that has included the DDA budgeting funds over the past 4 years. When the fundraising effort launched the DDA budgeted $300,000 plus another $150,000 for matching funds for community contributions. With a goal of raising $100,000 from community donations, the total budget came to about $550,000 dollars. By the end of May, the fundraising effort had met and exceeded that goal and yet donations large and small kept coming in.

Connor-Wellman says that the extra donations beyond the goal were welcome as it quickly became apparent that the cost estimates for the project made a mere few months earlier were as much as 21% too low. The largest impacts have been in the increased costs of building materials such as steel, lumber and concrete. In addition, the tight labor market has also driven labor costs higher. With uncertainty about when (or whether) costs will come down the decision was made to continue rather than delay the project and potentially have it cost even more in the future.

But how much more are we talking about? The combined effect is that the Toan Park renovation originally projected to cost $550,000 is now likely to cost about $125,000 more. Connor-Wellman says that the DDA intends to continue matching donations at $1.50 for every dollar given and is budgeting those matching funds from the coming fiscal year which starts July 1st. With donations large and small continuing to come in she is confident that the project will break ground in mid-July. Connor-Wellman points out that the more raised, the less that the DDA has to cut from it’s 2021-2022 budget to fund the difference. “Many of our larger donors wanted to help ensure the generosity of Portland didn’t go unanswered, and those who’d already contributed wouldn’t have to wait till 2022,” she said, “We’re very optimistic that together, as donations continue to come in and are matched, we’ll meet the needed funding!”

With construction slated to begin next month, the River Trail through Toan Park will be closed as will Water St. between Bridge St. and Grand River Ave. for the duration of the work. Trail users will be detoured to the boardwalk. In addition to the popular splash pad the project also will include a relocation the current play structure along with the addition of new swings and a barrier free play surface. The park will also feature a new larger picnic pavilion, outdoor fireplace, river overlook and additional shaded seating. The company hired for the project, Katerberg Verhage says that work is likely to be finished in about 8 weeks meaning the new park will be finished by early to mid September. “Of course, we are excited and anxious to start,” says Connor-Wellman, “so we’ve been encouraging that sooner is better. Now I’ve recently seen plenty of kids swimming in 52 degree Lake Michigan water, so we believe we’ll still get some good use out of the splash pad... before winterizing. And there’s always the overlook, fireplace, and new pavilion to look forward to!”

Donations are no longer being accepted through the patronicity campaign account but can be mailed (or dropped off at City Hall): Portland DDA, 259 Kent St, Portland, MI 48875. One upcoming fundraising opportunity is this Saturday the 19th between 10am and 2pm hosted by the Portland Boy Scout and Cub Scout Troops. The scouts will be shuttling canoes and kayaks for 2 and 3 hour trips on the Grand River with hot dogs, water and snacks available for participants with all excursions starting from Thompson Field canoe launch. All donations will go toward the park renovation project. Those wishing to participate are encouraged to register ahead of time or find more information at the event’s Facebook page.

PHOTO: Courtesy of Portland Downtown Development Authority.


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