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Johnson County scaling back campground improvements at F.W. Kent Park due to high cost
Project anticipated to go out to bid for a third time early next year
OXFORD — Johnson County’s plans for campground improvements to improve water quality at popular F.W. Kent Park will need to be scaled back after bids came in significantly over budget, delaying the project by at least one year.
The Board of Supervisors allocated $3.4 million in pandemic relief funds to replace the campground shower house and wastewater system, as well as the dump station for guests camping in recreational vehicles.
Kent Park, on Highway 6 in Oxford, has seen a record number of visitors and campers since the pandemic and lake restoration, and the county anticipates the park’s popularity to continue with Johnson County’s growing population.
Kent Park Lake underwent a $3.3 million restoration effort after warnings of bacteria and algae. The lake was drained in April 2017 and refilled in May 2019.
Following the lake restoration, the conservation department noticed one of the bays collecting drainage was full of algae, Conservation Director Larry Gullett previously told The Gazette
“What we found out is that the campground shower house wastewater system was exceeding its design capacity, and we were leaking nutrients from the wastewater system in the campground into the lake,” Gullett said.
With the allocated pandemic relief funds, Gullett said the department was excited “because it's a such an expensive project, but it needs to be done for environmental quality.”
What’s happened since?
The project has gone out to bid two times — once in May and again in August. The conservation board rejected bids both times because they exceeded $3.4 million.
The bids were coming in at around $5 million, meaning the county needs to cut the cost down by about $2 million, Gullett said. Even when the county extended the project completion deadline by a year in the second bid, the bids still came in over budget.
Gullett said supply chain issues and materials have increased the project cost significantly.
“From what I understand, we're not the only ones in this boat,” Gullett said. “There's a lot of construction projects right now that are coming in much higher than what they were estimated, and we just got to do the best we can.”
Gullett said the conservation department is going to use a two-pronged approach to try to get the cost down: scale the project back and see what work can be done in-house. The department is currently going through this planning process with the consultant and project engineers.
Initially, the plan was to construct the new shower house with 12 individual shower and restroom facilities. That will now be scaled back to six showers and restrooms.
“It'll make it a little less convenient for the park users, but we got to get the costs under control,” Gullett said.
From an engineering perspective, Gullett said the septic and wastewater system will remain the same size.
Some parts of the project that were going to be contracted will be taken out of the bid process and done in-house, Gullett said. For example a garage for campers’ firewood storage will be constructed by staff to save money.
If all goes according to plan, the project could go out for bid again in late February or early March, Gullett said.
The original plan was to get the shower house project completed by May 2023. That has now been pushed back to May 2024 at a earliest because of the various challenges, Gullett said.
The campground will still open for the upcoming season, there just won’t be modern restrooms, Gullett said. There are still water hydrants and multiple latrines in the campground.
The conservation department will communicate any updates throughout the camping season by social media and news releases on the county’s website. People can also call the department at 319-645-2315 with any questions.
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