Repair work, modified contracts and misclassified money prompts calls for park audit

Taking Action

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — On a nice spring day students crowd the cafe, others play a little ping pong. It’s clear folks enjoying what the newly renovated Monroe Park has to offer. Yet a local neighborhood association is calling for an audit of the project. Not far from those students enjoying the park, construction crews and landscapers continue to work in one corner. 

The Monroe Park Conservancy which helped facilitate the facelift told 8News contractors used the wrong type of grass causing drainage issues. 

In a response from the Mayor Stoney administration, 8News was told:

“The general contractor and their landscaping subcontractor are performing warranty work to reseed the grass, which due to a confluence of issues including the excessive rainfall this past summer and fall and some contractor causes, struggled to become fully established. The contractor initially used the correct specified seed mixture. Calendar year 2018 was the second wettest year on record in Richmond.” 

In another corner, Todd Woodson President of the Oregon Hill Neighborhood Association points out an issue with erosion.  

“There’s silk fencing still in the park. It is by no means complete,” he says.

There’s a problem with the pathways in the park.

“Every time it rains they erode and gravel dust goes into the sewer,” says Woodson.

Renovation mistakes are concerning for a project that cost at least $6 million, $3 million coming from the City.

The City Administration stated, “This warranty/corrective work is performed at no cost to the City. The temporary fencing has been installed until the new grass has grown and taken hold, at that time the temporary fencing will be removed. All projects have some level of work that must be completed post occupancy or work that must be corrected due to warranty claims.” 

However, City Councilwoman Kim Gray admits a recent capital improvement audit is raising new concerns about park spending.

“There are things that came out in that review that show things weren’t properly being accounted for,” says Councilwoman Gray.

That review found $345,000 tied to the Monroe Park renovations was billed to Richmond Schools.

“I think the City needs to get their financial house in order. That money was supposed to be in the school construction budget somehow it ended up getting spent on Monroe Park,” said Woodson.

It’s unclear if that money was on top of the $3 million the City gave.

“We need to make sure every single dollar down to the penny was accounted for. A lot of stuff is being done by paper and pencil. That’s a major issue,” Councilwoman Gray told 8News. 

8News has also been looking over the original contract or the park. 8News found the agreement with the design firm 3north was modified three times, tacking on an additional $260,000 in taxpayer money. Those modifications were made without City Council approval.

We’re told that’s not uncommon and City code permits it. Yet some now question if that should be allowed.

“We need to air on the side of transparency so any changes to contracts need to be publicly put out there,” said Gray.

All of this has prompted the Oregon Hill Neighborhood Association to press city leaders for an audit of the park project.

“We feel with that revelation it is imperative that a full and comprehensive audit be placed on the renovation of this park find to where all the money went,” Woodson told 8News.

“I think it is always good for our citizens to stay engaged and be involved in our processes at City Hall,” says Gray.

Another council member told 8News they are considering an ordinance that would limit contract modifications. With regards to the problematic bookkeeping, the Stoney administration told 8News:

“The Monroe Park Renovation project was designed and solicited for construction bids during the previous administration. Likewise, the problematic bookkeeping issues with certain cost elements of this project also began before Mayor Stoney’s administration, but have been addressed and rectified.”

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