EL CENTRO — To answer the question as to why a private citizen would want to donate $500,000 to the city of El Centro to build a public dog park, Phillip Heald had a rather simple response.
After first explaining that both he and his wife of 58 years, Elise, are dog lovers and frugal spenders, Heald told city officials that they also have the financial security to part with the sizable monetary sum. The Healds are the former owners of homegrown Imperial Stores hardware chain mostly absorbed by Ace Hardware.
“The more important reason is because we should,” he added. “It’s something that El Centro really needs.”
Yet, in spite of the Healds’ generous and much-welcomed donation, it still took a lengthy discussion before the City Council ultimately approved a resolution to build the dog park during its Tuesday, June 23 regular meeting.
The $900,000 project is to be situated on an acre of city property at the southeast corner of Adams Avenue and Seventh Street.
Though other locations were considered, the project’s proposed site would complement the existing recreational facilities that span Adams Avenue between Eighth and Fourth streets and which include the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Sports Pavilion, Brett Driscoll Sidewinder Skate Park and the Aquatic Center.
“We thought it could enliven that area and create that synergy between all those land uses that we have along Adams,” Community Services Director Adriana Nava said.
As currently designed, the dog park would have separate areas for small and large dogs. Its amenities would include picnic tables and shade structures, a restroom and trail area, outdoor lighting, landscaping, parking, and a water feature for large dogs.
Sally ports, or “catwalks,” would serve as entrances and exits. They would be gated on each end to allow dogs to acclimate themselves to the park’s atmosphere without an owner having to fear that they will run off.
Aside from the Healds’ donation, the project would be funded by upward of $459,000 in city funds, with $220,000 of that coming from Measure P monies, Nava said.
Prior to the council’s unanimous approval, the proposed project was almost stopped in its tracks over concerns about its recommended procurement process and request to have an onsite restroom.
The concerns came mainly from Mayor Tomas Oliva, who argued for having the project open to a competitive bidding process instead of being undertaken by a pre-selected local general contractor under a design-build contract.
A large part of the reason that Oliva had initially insisted on opening the project to bidders was his desire to practice due diligence as a council member entrusted with the oversight of the city’s funds.
“I really do not take well with somebody that’s looking at me, that’s going to say, ‘I’m going to give you a check. Do what I say,’” Oliva said.
Oliva also expressed reluctance to saddle the proposed project with the estimated $190,000 cost of acquiring a pre-manufactured restroom and having to install and connect a sewer line to it. He suggested the monies could better be spent on some other pressing need for the city.
Following a discussion that lasted more than an hour, his concerns appeared to have faded enough for him to withdraw his motion to have the project to go out to bid and have the council vote on a proposed concept that eliminated the onsite restroom.
Oliva’s concerns were eased after the council was told that placing the project out to bid would substantially increase its overall costs, and negate any savings realized from the elimination of the $100,000 pre-manufactured restroom.
“I don’t want to add costs,” he said.
The city had considered having dog park patrons use the restrooms located at the skatepark but decided against it because of the inconvenience it could pose for dog owners who would either have to take their dogs with them to the restroom or potentially leave them unattended at the dog park.
Those in support of having a restroom installed at the dog park said it would serve a crucial need by allowing dog owners to wash their hands after picking up their pet’s droppings.
“Two-hundred thousand dollars over the course of a 40-year park is peanuts per pee,” said council member Cheryl Viegas-Walker.
She also personally thanked the Healds for their donation.
“I cannot remember someone coming to donate $5,000 let alone a half million dollars to enrich our community,” Viegas-Walker said. “And I’m thankful and grateful that you selected the city of El Centro with that generous, generous donation for a dog park.”
The decision to utilize Duggins Construction Inc. for the project was prompted by donor Heald’s initial discussions about the park with the Imperial-based general contractor.
Those discussions led to an initial conceptual design and other preliminary work, including cost estimates, Community Services Director Nava said.
Because of its charter, the city has the legal option to forego the competitive bidding process and instead move forward with the proposed design-build contract, which combines the dog park’s design and construction contracts, various city official said.
If the city were to seek separate bids for the dog park’s design and construction, Public Works Director Abraham Campos said the $26,000 design price tag would “skyrocket” to more than $100,000.
The process for soliciting and approving two separate design and construction contracts would also add about six months to the project’s timeframe.
“Having (the design-build contract) as a legal option going forward it makes sense and it helps projects, especially the small ones like this one, where you don’t need a lot of overhead in the design process,” Campos told the council.
Duggins’ Vice President Oscar Grijalva said that when Heald initially approached the company with his idea for a dog park, the firm worked to ensure that his $500,000 donation would go a long way toward fulfilling his vision.
Grijalva also said that the city could anticipate the project’s lowest possible bids coming in between $1 million to $1.7 million if it were to openly request proposals.
As it is, Duggins has been able to reduce overall costs by negotiating labor and materials costs with subcontractors who had expressed support for the proposed dog park. The company has plans for additional discussions to identify whether any other savings can be realized, too.
“As a competitive bid you’re not going to be able to do that,” Grijalva said.
During the council meeting, local dog trainer Mike Burk lent his support for the proposed dog park, as well.
The park’s existence would provide an opportunity for dogs and their owners to interact with one another. It is not uncommon for a dog to become fearful or fearful aggressive when they do not have the ability to socialize, Burk said.
“This dog park is a way for people to go and interact with their dogs and socialize so that they do become better members of the family,” he told the council.