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Queens Chronicle

Liu: Parks projects need better oversight

Many are over time and over budget

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Posted: Thursday, January 17, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 11:42 am, Thu Jan 24, 2013.

Late and overbudget — that’s what City Comptroller John Liu says his office found of Parks Department projects after conducting an audit, and he wants the agency to take action and fix things. He has made some recommendations to ensure it does so.

Liu says Parks’ inability to keep an eye on its capital construction projects resulted in almost half of them finishing late and 10 percent of them going significantly over budget in fiscal years 2010 and 2011.

Here in Queens, schoolyards at PS 129 in College Point, PS 79 in Whitestone, JHS 25 in Flushing and PS 159 in Bayside were 53 days late in completion and $182,000 over budget, according to the audit. Schoolyards at PS 116 in Jamaica and IS 238 in Hollis were delayed by 284 days and cost an additional $100,949. The number of days refers to the delay on an overall contract that covered all the schools.

“New Yorkers and visitors alike love our parks,” Liu said in a prepared statement. “Repairs and upgrades must be better managed not only to reduce wasteful spending, but also to minimize the duration of park closures. The Parks Department can do better.”

In 2010 and 2011, the Parks Department completed 315 capital construction projects, at a cost of $496.3 million. Liu’s audit found that 149 or 47 percent of those projects were finished late.

“We recognize that there is more we can do to ensure that our projects are completed in a timely manner and have taken steps to improve our processes so that more projects finish within their estimated completion dates,” Philip Abramson, a spokesman for the Parks Department, said in an email. “The Comptroller noted that 90 percent of our projects are on budget – which we believe is an indication of strong oversight.”

The projects were 218 days late on average. These late projects were supposed to have been completed within 284 days on average, so the delays resulted in almost doubling the length of time planned for completion.

All totaled, the 30 projects, which had been budgeted at a combined cost of $69.6 million, went $10 million over budget and above the additional $8.6 million in contingency allowances the agency is allotted.

Liu’s audit was in response to numerous complaints from residents citywide, including calls to the comptroller’s “no waste” hotline, and after independently assessing that an examination of the agency’s capital projects was warranted.

“I think there should be accountability and transparency from every city agency,” said Fred Kress of the Coalition of Parks and Green Spaces. “We definitely need more of that.”

The audit recommended several steps that the Parks Department should take to better ensure that projects are completed on time and within budget.For example, the audit recommended that the Parks Department flag projects for priority completion so that delayed work can be expedited.

The Parks Department notes that Liu’s audit found that 90 percent of the agency’s capital projects completed in fiscal years 2010 and 2011 were on budget. The 10 percent of projects that had gone over represented only 2.3 percent of the agency’s total capital.

The agency also said that there are many causes of delays that are outside of its direct control, such as unexpected field conditions that can lead to unanticipated plan changes.

“I think reasonable delays are to be expected, but when we are talking about several years then maybe that money should be taken back and given to another agency that has a project that can get done in a timely fashion,” Kress said.

He used the example of a project to construct a comfort station at Fort Totten Park, which he says took about five years to complete and had to be pushed by civics in order to get the agency to move forward.

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