On July 16, the county commission voted unanimously to publish a request for bids to upgrade the soccer fields at Donnie Wilson Park west of Apalachicola.
The decision came after County Parks and Recreation Director Nikki Millender gave commissioners an estimate of $114,000 for construction of a soccer field in an area of the park already designated for that use.
The estimate included $17,135 for fill; $24,000 for sod; $5,000 for irrigation, $13,200 for chain link fence; $3,500 for a scoreboard, $2,700 for two goals; $750 for benches and $2,400 for light poles without lights or power. Also included in the estimate was $35,000 for a basketball court.
Commissioner Noah Lockley said he supported beginning work on the soccer field at once. Clerk of Courts Marcia Johnson said the project would deplete capital outlay funds until Sept. 1.
“We have never depleted capital outlay,” said Chairman Cheryl Sanders. “That concerns me if we have any kind of emergency.”
In a telephone interview, Assistant Finance Director Erin Griffith said the capital outlay fund is used to purchase or maintain and upgrade county property. She said it might be used as a match for grants. Funds from capital outlay were recently used to buy land for parking adjacent to the Eastpoint boat ramp.
“I’m not opposed to building this field. I am for doing this but I am also for finding a way to do it where it does not strap the county,” Commissioner Pinki Jackel said. “Since I have been sitting here, we have not spent $200,000 on a soccer field or any other kind of field out of county funds. We have relied on state funds, FRDAP (Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program) grants, all kinds of grants that we have been able to search for and find.”
Jackel said she did not believe the project could be completed in time for the beginning of soccer season in the fall.
Betty Sassnett, president of the Franklin County Youth Soccer League, asked whether commissioners could ask the Franklin Correctional Institute for workers to upgrade the field.
“We can’t always get them,” Commissioner William Massey said. “Sometimes we go six weeks and I can’t get them out. It will be better if we can bid it out because it’s going to drag out for a long time with inmates.”
Jackel said the cost of the field required the work be bid out.
“Hopefully, in November, we will have additional TDC (Tourist Development Council) money,” she said. “I just want to look at the most prudent way to get a quality product for y’all and not have something thrown together at the last minute. You’re looking at a $200,000 project.”
Sasnett said the soccer league has waited for funding for several years. “Why can’t we bid it and go ahead with the basics to start something?” she said. “Let’s get the ball rolling.”
She said the cost of leveling and sodding the field would only be about $50,000. She said the basketball court could be eliminated from the work. “We’d like to have lights but lights are not necessary to play,” Sasnett said.
Lockley asked the commission to go out for bids. He said the project would not spend enough money to deplete the fund before September 1.
“It just seems to me we keep prolonging and prolonging and prolonging and the kids are sitting out here without a place to play soccer,” Commissioner Smokey Parrish said. “Everybody professes to support the young’uns, but it’s time to step up to the plate.”
The Rev. Scotty Lolley of the Living Waters Assembly of God spoke in support of the project.
“I mean no disrespect but it seems to me that we keep waiting on a grant here and a grant there for our kids but our county is not willing to sow any of its own seed into their lives,” he said.
“Meaning no disrespect, that’s how we’ve gotten all of our sports complexes,” Sanders replied. “We waited over in Carrabelle for many, many years. We support our youth 100 percent. That’s why we have youth going to all these tournaments and World Series but I’m really concerned with what Marcia (Johnson) said about depleting the (capital outlay fund). If we were to get a storm, that’s what we would have to use.”
Carla Cates, a parent of soccer players, said, “Children are getting hurt on our fields; one of whom was my daughter. Honestly, we need the dirt and we need the sod right away. They’re not safe. My daughter’s ankle is shot. I’m probably going to have to take her for surgery.”
Jackel said the timing of the request was bad because it came at the end of the budget cycle. “We have been bringing this to you since 2012,” said Sasnett.
Jackel said she supported the idea of seeking bids for sod and fill dirt, but did not support spending $200,000. She said there were hidden costs not covered in the estimate including electrical work on the lights.
Parrish said lights would not be installed in the first phase of work on the field. Lockley moved to dedicate $57,000 from capital outlay to upgrading the soccer field.
Sanders said the commission should start by considering the cost of fill dirt, sod and irrigation. She said that portion of the upgrade would cost around $46,000.
Millender said no labor was included in the estimate. “You’re going to have to pay somebody to do it because we don’t have support from the prisoners,” she said.
Jackel suggested the commission review bids without earmarking money. The commission voted unanimously to seek bids for the project.