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Posted: April 17, 2014 10:00 p.m.

Gazebo gets committee’s support

Consensus to move ahead, but use hotel tax dollars instead

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The Madison gazebo cost $107,000.

The hotly-debated gazebo proposed to be built on the Covington square was sent to a committee this week for more citizen and business owner feedback.

The committee’s consensus? Move forward with the original proposal.

Given the lack of changes, it’s unclear if council members will be satisfied given the cost concerns they expressed last week, though the committee’s suggestion to use hotel/motel tax money to build the gazebo and make other improvements to the square could allay some of the consternation over cost.

Hotel/motel tax money is generated solely from the 8 percent tax charged to hotel and motel stays in Covington and would prevent the costs from coming out of the city’s general fund.

Background

So with all the recent talk, what exactly are we talking about. Mayor Ronnie Johnston wanted to revamp the square after the city was given control over its operation and upkeep by the county, and he proposed adding a gazebo as the key change. The gazebo would be located on the square’s southeast quadrant, catty corner to Scoops, and would replace the current concrete pad where concerts are frequently held.

Planning Director Randy Vinson, an architect by trade, was tasked with the design. His proposal was a gazebo that was:

A timber-framed gazebo, more stately and simple that the ornate Southern Classical style columns and gazebos
24-feet wide

2 feet tall, with 12 feet of that open space supported by columns and 10 feet of roof height

The initial $55,000 cost elicited sticker shock from some council members and residents, but Vinson said that was an all-inclusive, conservative estimate.

The more accurate cost for the gazebo itself is closer to $36,000.

Vinson said he considered the size of the gazebo very carefully, and felt the size he selected was large enough where it wouldn’t look miniscule and ridiculous – like some city gazebos he’s seen – but small enough where it wouldn’t detract from the rest of the square.

True Cost

The gazebo project could be fully completed for around $36,000, Vinson reiterated Tuesday.

The main cost differences from the original $55,000 would be:

savings of $8,375 by using plain concrete for the gazebo floor, instead of the decorative hexagonal pavers used elsewhere on the square; additional savings would be found here by having to do less work to prepare for the pavers

savings of $3,500 by not installing electricity and sound equipment; this could be installed later

savings of $2,000 for lumber milling. This was never an actual cost as the city would provide the lumber and owns a sawmill; Vinson included the cost as an internal city reimbursement for the department that would be doing the actual milling.

elimination of the $2,000 contingency and $1,000 for miscellaneous costs, which Vinson were only included as conservative safety measures, but aren’t likely necessary for such a small project

removing the $850 cost to relocate the flag pole, which would be needed for any improvement made to that area and isn’t an actual cost of the gazebo

The cost of Rutledge’s gazebo was $31,000, which is also 24 wide, but has shorter, 8-foot columns.

Madison’s gazebo is $107,000 and is 16-feet wide with 12-foot columns, but it has a large brick base and was built with the intricate Southern Classical style, which Vinson said added costs. He recommended a timber frame both because the initial cost is less, but also because the maintenance is much less than the more intricate style.

Timber frame only has to be stained every three years, Vinson said, compared to the caulking, painting and other upkeep for a more intricate design.

Concerns addressed

Musician and business owner Mack McKibben, who owns McKibben Music on the square, originally was concerned the gazebo wouldn’t have good acoustics. He said at Wednesday’s committee meeting he thought a state with a removable band shell would be an ideal set up, but when he saw the overall plan for the square, he saw that a gazebo was a better fit for all the proposed uses.

Similarly, former Covington city manager Steve Horton said he wasn’t necessarily in favor of the project initially, but he said he changed his mind after he studied usage more recently and saw many people using the square to take prom and tourist photos.

Lingering concerns

The city only signed an experimental lease with the county for control of the square that expires June 2014. While the lease is expected by some officials to be approved, the Newton County Board of Commissioners could easily vote to end the lease, a point raised during the committee meeting by Councilman Keith Dalton.

During last week’s council work session, Councilman Chris Smith said some “Old Covington” residents had told him they wanted the square left alone.

Next steps

City Manager Leigh Anne Knight said the committee’s discussion and consensus will be presented at the council’s Monday meeting. The committee will request will be to use hotel/motel money to complete the gazebo construction and the entire downtown plan at the same time as construction is underway on the public bathrooms downtown – which the council already approved – at 1147 Washington St., next to Town House Café, so both projects will be up and running at the same time, Knight said.

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