By Douglas Morino
Under a row of towering ficus trees and with a giant red ribbon waiting to be cut, Los Angeles County officials this week unveiled a long-awaited, multimillion-dollar aquatic center and skate park at Alondra Park near Lawndale.
Several hundred residents turned out for the twice- delayed opening ceremony, many with cameras or skateboards in hand.
There were speeches, patriotic bunting, free hamburgers, even a soulful rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner."
"This is a park in which we have made a significant investment and I am proud of that fact," Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, whose district includes the 84-acre Alondra Park, said to booming applause.
The new 14,000-square-foot Alondra Skatepark is considered one of the largest in the South Bay. It features a street pavilion with rails, stairs and ledges, and two bowls for vert skating.
Online skateboard forums have been buzzing for months about the opening.
"We've been waiting forever," said Lawndale resident Nick Acosta, 16, as he sat with some friends on a ledge in the skate park. "They kept delaying and delaying. But now that it's open, it definitely lives up to expectations."
The Alondra Park project has been mired in bureaucratic red tape and plagued by disappointing construction delays since it was first approved in March 2007 by county supervisors.
Work stalled for two years because of a dispute between the county and a water provider, Golden State Water Co., over who would supply water to a fire hydrant near the project.
Then, once work finally started, an underground reservoir was discovered by construction crews and a drainage system had to be installed to protect the structural foundation of the swimming pool, said Bob Spencer, public affairs manager for the Los Angeles County Public Works Department.
"Our original objective was to open the pool much earlier this summer," Ridley-Thomas said during the speech. "We didn't want to open it unless it was right, unless it was safe, unless it was what this community has waited for and deserved."
Although the renovations were first slated to be finished by fall 2010, county officials had hoped the Alondra Park upgrades would be opened in time for summer.
But the grand opening ceremony was postponed twice, with little reason or explanation given publicly.
"We share the supervisor's (Ridley-Thomas) disappointment in the delay," Spencer said. "The project was earmarked to be open by summer, but we were unable to meet that because of unforeseen issues."
Contractors were paid $160an hour for their work on the project, Spencer said, adding the delay through summer did not add to the project's final cost.
Construction was done by Los Angeles-based Woodcliff Corp., while Frank R. Webb Inc., an architecture firm based in Fullerton, designed the renovations.
The 3.5-acre Alondra Park project was managed by SRD Management, one of six firms hired in 2011 by county supervisors on a $7.5 million contract to oversee various capital improvement projects across the county, including Alondra Park.
The company was awarded the contract over 38 other firms, according to county records.
The Alondra Park project was overseen by the county Department of Public Works. Maintenance on the aquatic center and skate park will be performed by the county's Parks and Recreation Department.
Upgrades to the 57-year-old park also include a newly renovated gymnasium, which opened in July.
The park lies in an unincorporated county area east of Lawndale and north of Torrance, stretching along Redondo Beach and Manhattan Beach boulevards beside El Camino College.
The aquatic center and skate park appeared to be finished for much of summer, but were surrounded in yellow tape and chain-link fence. A sign posted on a gate near the entrance to the swimming pool apologized for the delay, saying only the grand opening had been postponed until further notice.
Residents and local city officials complained privately that little outreach was done by the county to keep the community updated on construction progress.
Even an invitation sent out to announce the park's grand opening had a wrong address and a telephone number that went unanswered.
But in an apparent apology by county officials for the long delay, residents were offered a free barbecue as the park was opened Thursday to much fanfare. County officials also pledged to keep the swimming pool open late into the fall.
"The kids have been anxious, you could see them standing next to the fence peering through," said James Lang, owner of South Bay Skates, which sits across Redondo Beach Boulevard from the new skate park. "But now that's it's open, everyone is stoked. There's nothing like this around."
Follow Douglas Morino on Twitter at http://twitter.com/douglasmorino