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Why San Jacinto Plaza’s renovation is months behind schedule

San Jacinto Plaza was supposed to be a centerpiece of the 2012 Quality of Life bond projects. But months of unexplained delays have dulled the intended shine in many people’s eyes.

It took just 12 months to go from the demolition of City Hall to the completed downtown ballpark. And yet a more than a year after the renovation began, work on San Jacinto Plaza continues to drag on.

It was originally supposed to be done in November of 2014. That was then pushed back to March. But in April and now May, the construction continues with no explanation from the city.
“Unfortunately, at this particular time, it’s not quite ready,” said Cortney Niland, city representative for District 8, which includes downtown. “And instead of rushing the process, and delivering a product that is not up to the standards of which we negotiated with the contractor, we are making sure that the investment that this community is making in this park is exactly what they’re expecting.”

Beside the hassle, events planned for a finished plaza are being impacted. The Mariachi Loco and Neon Desert Music Festivals will have to be held around the incomplete plaza.

The city has just stopped announcing the project’s end date.

“No,” said City Engineer Irene Ramirez in response to a question on if there was any projected completion timeline. “We’re still working on it. Still working diligently with the contractor to make sure that we provide for the citizens the great project we know they want and expect.”

On a tour around the plaza, Ramirez pointed out some of the completed features, such as a splash pad, tree-lined walks and brickwork on three sides of the site. Still remaining is work on the Oregon Street side of the plaza, and work on a 40-ton canopy that will cover the center of San Jacinto Plaza, where the refurbished ‘Los Lagartos’ statue will sit.

“Until we get all that in place, we can’t really bring in the sculpture,” Ramirez said. “We get that in place, then we can go in and finish off the pond and all the pavers and work that’s underneath that, because frankly, we’re working underneath it and we don’t want to go in and damage what we might have put in.”

Priorities for the plaza have been constantly changing, though. Construction documents and change orders from the city show numerous changes large and small – from rerouting pipes and wiring to adding tens of thousands of dollars in new trees.

The bid and contract documents are excruciatingly detailed in 971 pages, obtained by ABC-7 in an open records request. The ABC-7 I-Team also found 22 change orders for the project through April. 17 of those have been approved since December, when city council adopted new strategic goals, such as promoting the visual image of El Paso and enhancing the city’s quality of life.

“Unfortunately, we’re kind of caught in the middle of some actions,” said Lily Limon, city representative for District 7. “So it’s kind of like coming — actually it’s like building a bridge from two different sides and hoping that the two are going to meet in the middle somewhere.”

Construction costs are adding up. The original construction budget for San Jacinto Plaza was just over $4.5 million. The city is now more than a quarter of a million dollars over that, with more work to go. City spokespersons say it’s about 80 percent complete, but an overhead look at the site shows a majority of the center area and Oregon side still needing work.

The entire San Jacinto Plaza project has a budget of $6 million, including marketing and other costs beyond construction. The city says the entire project is still below that budget.

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