The next phase of a multimillion-dollar plan to turn the Springfield Art Museum grounds into a gathering space is underway, with the bright brush strokes of optimism in the foreground and some shades of the modern construction trades industry in the background.

One of the art museum master plan’s key goals is to make the grounds off of National Avenue more connected and more accessible to Springfield’s trail system. The Springfield City Council voted 9-0 to enter into a $459,895 contract with Pleasant Hill-based Radmacher Brothers Construction for development of a trail connecting Grant Avenue to the Springfield Art Museum.

The trail will go east from Grant Avenue through Phelps Grove Park, across Virginia Avenue and Kings Avenue and end at Brookside Drive on the art museum grounds. The path will be about 1,600 feet long with ADA-compliant ramps. The project scope includes construction of a pedestrian bridge across Fassnight Creek.

“The bridge, the pedestrian bridge — that’s where the big cost increase was relative to our estimate,” Springfield Director of Public Works Dan Smith said.

The winning bid came in about $143,000 higher than engineers with the Springfield Department of Public Works estimated the project would cost to build.

A pedestrian bridge will cross Fassnight Creek between the Springfield Art Museum and Brookside Drive. (Photo by Rance Burger)

Bids over estimate

In round numbers, the low bid was about $460,000. The next bid was about $470,000, and the next bid was around $494,000. While the bids were all well above the initial estimate of $316,000, Smith said there is some encouragement to be found in how close together three of the bids fell.

“You can see they are pretty close together, and so we feel like they are good market bids,” Smith said. “Radmacher also is the contractor for Grant Avenue Parkway, and so that’s convenient, and actually we’re happy to see them bidding on other projects. They’ve been doing a great job.”

Springfield Mayor Ken McClure looked at the bids and noted there was, “still a substantial gap in there, even though the bids were relatively close together.”

Trail leads to talk of contractors’ climate

The Springfield Art Museum grounds will feature an outdoor amphitheater looking east toward the museum, with a trail running along the north side of the amphitheater ground. (Photo by Rance Burger)

Contractors are busy, Smith told the Springfield City Council. As communities use federal funding for economic relief from the COVID-19 pandemic, the race is on to bid and complete public projects by the end of 2026. For a time, it was difficult for larger city governments like Springfield to get competitive bids for major projects.

“We’re seeing more bidders, which is excellent,” Smith said. “The bad news is, bids are continuing to be high.”

High costs of certain materials and added expenses for contractors to acquire and store materials, and pay skilled workers, make it difficult to determine what any given build will cost.

“We’re finding it difficult in this environment to really estimate things as well as we would like,” Smith said. “There are so many factors impacting pricing.”

The Fassnight trail project is funded through a mix of local and federal funds. A federal surface transportation block grant will cover $217,461 in costs, and Springfield’s 1/4-cent sales tax funds designated for pedestrian accessibility projects will cover the remaining $242,434.

Smith said the current climate for construction projects is offering contractors more work opportunities than they are equipped to handle in some cases, making it difficult to get low bids, and sometimes making it difficult to find contractors with availability on their calendars.

Creek rerouting project coincides

Fassnight Creek passes along Brookside Drive to the southwest of the Springfield Art Museum. The creek was restored to a more natural state in 2022 as part of a larger plan to turn the museum grounds into a communal gathering space. (Photo by Rance Burger)

Work to transform Fassnight Creek through a storied section of Springfield started March 15, 2021.

Contractors from Hartman and Company transformed the lands immediately south and west of the Springfield Art Museum to control water runoff from storms and to encourage Springfield residents and visitors to walk along the creek. A new trail, and the improvement of a section of existing trail in Phelps Grove Park, will continue the path to encourage more walking.

“The part across Phelps Grove is actually an old trail that needs to be replaced,” Smith said.

The contractors removed about 1,000 feet of concrete channel and replaced it with a more natural creek flowing along Brookside Drive. The water project area is about 1.5 acres. Workers contracted through Hartman and Company were hired in 2020 to make sewer main improvements, realign the road and repave East Brookside Drive. 

The plan also calls for segmented block retaining walls and concrete bridges that will carry pedestrians, not cars, on and off the art museum grounds. 

The Grant Avenue Parkway project is a plan to create an off-street pedestrian and bicycle pathway along Grant Avenue from Sunshine Street to College Street in downtown Springfield. The south hub of the Grant Avenue Parkway project area is the Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium on Sunshine Street. The northern hub is the IDEA Commons at Mill Street, with a proposed center city loop around part of downtown Springfield.

The Springfield Art Museum’s $25 million master plan for development also calls for Brookside Drive, which runs along the south side of the museum from National Avenue, to be made into a boulevard that serves to welcome guests into the museum. The master plan also calls for changes to the museum’s west entrance, which would be reoriented toward an outdoor amphitheater, the museum lawn and Fassnight Creek.

A map illustrates the plan for a trail connector between the Springfield Art Museum and Grant Avenue Parkway, using Phelps Grove Park as part of the outdoor trail. (Photo: City of Springfield)

Rance Burger

Rance Burger covers local government for the Daily Citizen. His goal is to help people know more about what projects their government is involved in, and how their tax dollars are being spent. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with 15 years experience in journalism. Reach him at rburger@sgfcitizen.org or by calling 417-837-3669. Twitter: @RanceBurger More by Rance Burger