When it comes to building a world-class aquatics center in Augusta, city officials are just trying to keep their heads above water.
Augusta commissioners threw out all the bids to build the $3.2 million aquatics natatorium Wednesday, then decided to start the bidding process over. The seven commissioners at a specially called meeting voted unanimously to reject all bids after officials with the company that won the bid said its price was too low.
Officials from Delaware-based company Con Tec were rebuffed by commissioners last week when they sought to amend a $3.9 million bid. Lawyers representing the company Wednesday said mistakes were made in calculating construction costs.
After meeting with the lawyers for about an hour behind closed doors, commissioners chose their new course of action.
"We want to be fair to the business community; in fact we're bending over backward to be fair. And rescinding the bids was the only fair thing to do," Commissioner Moses Todd said after Wednesday's meeting.
More than $4 million in sales tax money has been set aside to build Augusta's natatorium, which will be on Damascus Road. The two-pool complex will be large enough to attract competitive swimmers and will also serve the local public.
Recreation officials in February said the complex would be finished in time for the Georgia Games in July 1999 and would also host the Amateur Athletic Union Southeastern Regional Swim Meet set for May 1999.
City officials were so confident that the natatorium would be completed that they paid a $500 fee to help bring the swim meet to Augusta. Whether Augusta will get to host the meet is still up in the air.
Recreation Director Tom Beck was still hopeful, but at least one commissioner said he wasn't so sure.
"It's put being able to host that event on a tight schedule," Mr. Beck said. "We hope to get a contract in by the middle of this April, and that means we can have it completed by April of next year for the competition. That still gives us over a month in between."
A rough winter could knock Augusta right out of the running for the AAU swim meet, Commissioner Bill Khulke said. He's more hopeful for the Georgia Games, though.
"If we have another winter like the one we're having this year, it's going to be tough. The rain could really put us behind schedule and we may not be ready for the AAU, but we should be in good shape for the Georgia Games," he said.
The Georgia Games is an amateur sports event featuring numerous activities, including basketball, track and field and swimming. When the competition comes to Augusta in 1999, it will mark the first year the event will be held outside Atlanta.
The city's recreation department received two bids on the natatorium project. One was from Con Tec, the other from local firm R.W. Allen and Associates. The recreation department chose Con Tec. Once bids were out, Con Tec wanted to increase its original bid by some $400,000.
Instead of going with the next lowest bid, city officials opted to start over, City Administrator Randy Oliver said.
"That was just too much money on the table," Mr. Oliver said.