By Richard Sullins |

Lee County residents will have to wait a little longer for the heavy equipment to start up in the building of the Multi-Sports Complex just south of Sanford.

The escalating costs of construction and projected delays that could be caused by shortages in the supply chain caused the Lee County Board of Commissioners on Monday to pause all planning for the project for at least the next 30 days.

Lee County Manager John Crumpton reviewed with the commissioners the results of a discussion held last week with the architect for the project, McAdams Civil Engineering, where preliminary cost estimates were reviewed.

But even county leaders who have grown accustomed to cost overruns on construction projects seemed taken aback to learn that the estimated cost of creating the type of facility approved by taxpayers in 2020 is now more than double the original projected cost for building the complex.

The total estimated cost as of today is $69,904,443, not including another $4 million for athletic lighting and road improvements, and the commissioners were told that even that amount might not be enough to finish the project.

The projected costs show the county should expect a base bid of at least $60 million along with another $9 million for contingencies. The original estimates for the Multi-Sports Complex ranged from $25 to $30 million.

The architects cited two primary reasons for the skyrocketing estimates: continuing escalations in construction costs and the difficulty of accurately projecting the costs of materials and labor in the current and future markets.

The property is located near the intersection of U.S. 421 and Broadway Road. The tract of land where the complex will be sited is comprised of 119.82 acres and was authorized in November 2020, when 58.59 percent of the voters approved a bond referendum for the project.

As the commissioners discussed the challenge now facing the project, a common theme among both Democratic and Republican members was that they did not want to cut corners on quality simply as a means to save money. But Crumpton also told the board the scope of the project may need to be refined if it is to be carried out as it was sold to the voters.

Crumpton said that the architects proposed giving a higher priority to rectangular-shaped fields where soccer is played because of their scarcity across the county. Playgrounds and community spaces would be completed second, followed by championship-grade soccer fields. At least four baseball fields would come after that, and the final stage of construction would be the creation of a 500-seat baseball stadium capable of hosting teams like the Sanford Spinners.

Under the current McAdams projection, the project would be completed by the summer of 2028 if the timeline remains on schedule.

Democratic Commissioner Cameron Sharpe said he favors a “quality before quantity” approach, even if the project has to be scaled back.

“I support going forward with the rectangular fields first and not skimping on them,” he said. “Let’s make it a first-rate facility, even if we have to do it in phases. I don’t want to change anything from the original rendering of what we saw, or something close to that. If we have to build it in phases, that’s fine. But whatever we choose to do, I want it to be a first-class facility.”

A roll of the dice

Crumpton said the county has reached a point in the process where critical decisions about the complex are still to be made but “just like in chess, we also have the luxury of taking a little time to think before making our next move.”

Putting the project on hold for a bit could result in significant savings if construction and the costs of building materials starts to fall. But in the same way, the price tag could get larger if costs keep going up.

A pause could also allow the county staff time to look for grants or other sources of funding that might supplement existing funds, including contacting the county’s legislative delegation in Raleigh for help. McAdams says the project could be split into “zones” that could be completed as the county has funds available to pay for them, but that would delay the final completion of the project by years.

Lee County Development Services Director Santiago Giraldo told the commissioners that “cost escalations are normally about 4 percent each year. But for the past couple of years, the average has been closer to 20 percent per year.”

Giraldo oversees the county’s construction projects from start to finish and in the case of a huge undertaking like this one that could see as much as 80 acres of earthmoving work, he said that it makes sense to him to proceed slowly at first to minimize the risk of making mistakes that could cost the county millions over the long haul.

The consensus of the commissioners was to put the project on hold until their next meeting on August 8.