ELi runs a service called Ask ELi to Investigate in which we take readers’ news questions and try to get them answered. Today, we’re answering this question from an ELi reader:
“A million dollars?! How, in the name of all that is holy, can the pickleball courts cost $1,000,000.00?! Does ELi plan to do a deep dive into the project budget? I know I’ve gotten numb to government graft but c’mon. I love the pickleball courts, but it’s a slab of concrete with posts stuck in for nets. What is going on?”
First off, we don’t see any evidence of graft. What we do see is a bigger project at Patriarche Park than this reader sees and all construction costing a lot more than it did a few years ago when the project plan was developed.
The project has involved rebuilding the tennis, basketball and pickleball courts. The courts were “in significant disrepair,” according to material provided by city staff to City Council in July 2022. The courts were constructed between 1970 and 1981 and, other than resurfacing, there were no big improvements to them since construction.
Here is a slide provided by city staff to Council last year, showing some of the problems at the old courts.
Costs of construction have been skyrocketing, raising the expense of public and private projects. That’s partly because the federal government’s distribution of ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds has meant contractors and materials for big projects are in high demand. Supply chain disruptions are also causing unpredictability and cost increases.
City of East Lansing staff originally estimated this construction project would cost about $740,000. They bid the project out through the state’s inter-governmental bid system and also contacted 18 contractors who had previously done similar work for the city.
Only one contractor bid. That was Nielsen Commercial, who submitted a bid for $1,037,255.
Based on numbers provided by Cathy DeShambo, the city’s Director of Parks, Recreations & Arts, the costs ultimately came to $1,028,189. You can see how that breaks down here:
The charge from Floor Care Concepts was for installing a color-coat surfacing on the new pickleball courts. Council voted 4-1 in favor of that cost in January, with George Brookover casting the vote against.
To help deal with the increased costs, city staff approached the Patriarche Park Pickleball Association (PPPA), a 501(c)3 nonprofit charitable organization created to support community pickleball. That nongovernmental group ultimately raised and contributed $160,000 toward the project.
The rest of the funding came from two sources: a $300,000 grant city staff obtained from the state’s Natural Resources Trust Fund and $570,000 from revenues obtained through the city’s income tax.
As a reminder, when voters passed the proposal to institute a municipal income tax in 2018, the proposal stated that, of the net revenues obtained, 60% would go to the city’s pension debt, 20% would go to emergency services (police, emergency medical services and firefighting), and 20% would go to parks and infrastructure. So, this is one of the projects made possible by the income tax.
East Lansing has a large parks system with many facilities and the city puts millions of dollars toward supporting it each year, with Council’s approval. ELi recently reported that, in the coming fiscal year, East Lansing Parks & Rec is looking at spending a total of about $5.36 million. About $2 million in revenue will come from charges for services (things like fees paid to use the Aquatic Center or rooms at the Hannah Community Center), with another $2.6 million coming from property and income taxes.
City staff have a high rate of success obtaining grants to supplement local revenue sources. And voters have tended to support Parks & Rec, voting through special millages (property taxes) to pay for recreational facilities such as the conversion of the Hannah Community Center from a school and the building of the Family Aquatic Center.
Obtaining $160,000 in donations from a nongovernmental organization like PPPA is pretty extraordinary, and it speaks to the relative affluence of this city…and to local interest in pickleball.