The contractor of the “splash pad” planned beside North Wilkesboro’s Smoot Park Pool maintains that delays in completion of the project resulted largely from factors he couldn’t control.
Although no work onsite has been done in about a year, James “Buster” Mastin of North Wilkesboro-based Mastin Aquatic Recreation LLC, said in an interview Thursday that it’s possible the long-delayed project could be completed in August.
“I want to see it done as bad as everybody else, and as quickly as everybody else. But at the same time, I can’t pull four or five people off a half-million-dollar project we’ve got going” elsewhere, said Mastin.
The splash pad’s completion was scheduled by Dec. 1, 2017, under the town’s contract with Mastin, but work has been delayed several times this year and in 2018 since it started onsite in the fall of 2017.
Mastin said the delays were partly due to changes made to the project’s specifications after the town received a $29,503 grant from Lowe’s Companies Inc. in February 2018 and ordered new equipment for the splash pad.
“When you change anything like that, it exponentially changes everything…. The plans we had drawn had to be thrown away, and we had to start from scratch,” he said.
For example, Mastin said a 600-gallon surge tank was upgraded to a 2,500-gallon surge tank. “That’s not in my contract, and I told (town attorney) Gary Vannoy, ‘Look, I’ll provide everything that’s in my contract, but these are things you bought (with the Lowe’s grant) that run the (overall) price up.’”
Mastin said the departure of Bob Jacobs, original project engineer, from Drayton, S.C.-based Aquatics H2O, the project’s engineering firm, also contributed to the delays.
North Wilkesboro’s interim town manager, Ed Evans, said Wednesday that Mastin submitted revised engineering drawings to the Wilkes County Health Department for review on July 2, as the town requested. The health department required that the engineering plans be revised due to changes made after the Lowe’s grant was received.
Evans said Chad Gambill, a food, lodgings and institutions specialist with Wilkes County Environmental Health, is reviewing the plans and asked for clarifications from Aquatics H2O. “Hopefully, they will respond and the contractor will be able to go back to work,” said Evans.
Gambill said Thursday that a conditional approval letter will be issued by the health department by the end of the week, which will allow construction to proceed in accordance with the approved plans for the splash pad.
On June 4, the North Wilkesboro commissioners unanimously approved a motion to have Vannoy consult with District Attorney Tom Horner regarding potential legal action against Mastin, but Mastin said nothing had been filed against him as of Thursday.
Commissioner Bert Hall made the motion to take legal action, adding, “I drive by there three or four times a day, and it looks to me like they’re not gaining much ground. To me, it looks like he’s perpetrated a fraud on us.”
Leading up to the motion, the board repeatedly chastised Mastin for not completing the work by the Dec. 1, 2017, contracted deadline. The town paid Mastin $120,930 through June 7, 2018, for his work on the project, which now has an estimated cost of around $130,000 due to upgrades required by the health department. The original estimate was $85,794.
Mayor Robert Johnson said during a board meeting in May, “I know it’s like getting blood from a turnip, but we should take Buster Mastin to court and put him in jail if we can, that’s my opinion.”
In response to comments by the town board, Mastin said, “I wish they knew what we have to go through to obtain a building permit from the county. I’m not trying to throw anybody under the bus, but you’ve got to be familiar with this stuff and do it every day, and I thank the Lord I do.
“I don’t need their money to where I would do something dishonest. I’m not a bad guy. I have nothing to hide or be ashamed of. But so far, I’ve been threatened with lawsuits saying I’m a fraud.”
Mastin signed a contract with the town on Sept. 1, 2017, after submitting a bid of $85,794 to convert the existing Smoot Park children’s pool into a spray or splash pad water play area with water cannons, spray jets, pop jets and other features.
In the interview Thursday, Mastin called the Town of Wilkesboro’s splash pad in front of the Wilkes Heritage Museum “a squirter” and likened it to a Ford Escort. “Just wait till this thing cranks up, buddy. It’s a Cadillac Escalade with actual water-play units.”
The Heritage Square Splash Pad, sponsored by Carolina West Wireless, opened on Aug. 31, 2018. It cost the town about $175,000.
Mastin told the town board in March that he would finish the splash pad in mid-May and waive about $7,200 in payments the town still owed.
“I feel like I’ve been accused of things that I’m not guilty of, and that folks don’t know enough about the process,” he said. “I’ve only tried to help these folks, and I’m tired of being a whipping post. I’m trying to do the right thing, and I’m not going to be stampeded into goofing something up.”
Mastin said that he nor the town could have foreseen the changes to the original project that led to the delays. He added, “I’m the guy in charge, and it’s up to me to make it happen. But I don’t appreciate being accused of things I’ve not done.”
Town officials have said they believe Mastin made completing the splash pad a lower priority while completing larger jobs elsewhere. Mastin said in response in the interview, “To a point they may be correct, but after I saw we weren’t getting it going last year due to the delay of getting the material, I thought this spring (of 2019) we’d start all over again, and we did, then we had all this kickback.”
Mastin said he does commercial work in South Carolina and Florida and elsewhere in the Southeast. “I’ve worked for some strong development companies. They know me and trust me. I even put free tile on the swimming pool (at Smoot Park).”
Asked if there was anything he would do differently concerning the splash pad, Mastin said, “If had known the Lowe’s (grant) was coming in, I would have probably not even signed the contract until we had the whole ‘bale of hay’ in front of me, and that would have been in June or July of 2018.”