At the July 1 county meeting, commissioners took the first steps toward installing an improved soccer field at Donnie Wilson Sports Park.
Betty Sasnett, president of the Franklin County Youth Soccer League, launched the discussion with a request for help. “A lot of us have been driving to Gulf County for 10 or 15 years in order for our kids to play soccer,” she said.
She said that when the youth soccer league was created in 2012, the county commission promised to patch up the baseball outfields for use as soccer fields. She said commissioners promised the soccer league a more permanent facility in 2013.
Sasnett said 103 children played in the soccer league last year and that the county now has several certified referees. She said the league now wants to begin hosting home games against Gulf County teams.
“This is a great opportunity for our kids to get ready to play soccer in high school,” she said. “I know we had several kids who went to college on soccer scholarships this year. We’re here today to see what your plans are to create our soccer fields.”
Sasnett said parents would also like to see a basketball court installed at Wilson Field. She said a court had been discussed in 2012.
Commissioner Noah Lockley said he supported Sasnett’s goals for improving sports fields.
Sasnett said she understood a grant to fund the development of soccer and basketball facilities had been denied.
Lockley moved that a portion of $350,000 reimbursed by the Florida Communities Trust for a land purchase be used to fund the field improvements.
”I would like to see us move forward on this,” said Commissioner Smokey Parrish. “I don’t know that we have the money to do the entire project.”
Sasnett said the area designated for soccer at Wilson Field is very low-lying and needs to be upgraded.
Commissioner Cheryl Sanders asked how much upgrading the field would cost.
Assistant County Planner Mark Curenton said that in an application for a Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program (FRDAP) grant made in 2013, the estimated cost of a lighted soccer field at $103,000. The cost of constructing a lighted basketball court was an estimated $44,000. The FRDAP grant was not funded.
Lockley and Sanders said they felt the soccer field was a priority because it had been promised.
Commissioner Pinki Jackel said the commission had planned to use state funds. David Sasnett, who coaches soccer, said the source of funding was not mentioned when the field was promised.
Jackel said state funding was used to develop most county parks.
“Whether we have to pay for it, or the state has to pay for it, they’re going to have it,” Sanders said. “The priority right now is a soccer field.”
She asked Clay Kennedy of Preble Rish, the county’s engineering consultant, if a soccer field would cost $103,000. He said that it would be a tight budget for a lighted field.
“I would like for a cost to come before this board,” said Sanders.
“This is another example of us not having the information in advance (of the meeting),” Jackel said
David Sasnett said he hoped there would not be more delays for the project. “We thought the numbers were already there. I’m not a commissioner. She (his wife) is not a commissioner,” he said.
Sanders asked if anything could be done immediately to prepare for a soccer field. “Loads of dirt. It’s very, very low,” said Betty Sasnett.
Parrish asked if the work could be done by existing county crews.
“In the middle of the summer, it would be rough,” Superintendent of Public Works Howard Nabors said. He said he could work on the project bit by bit.
Parrish said the project could not be finished by soccer season under those circumstances.
“We will make do as we have before,” Betty Sasnett said. “We just want to get this project started.”
Sanders said there was a second soccer field at Kendrick Park that could be used.
“It is full of stickers. It needs work,” said David Sasnett.
Nikki Millender Director of Parks and Recreation said the $100,000 included lighting but the league was more concerned with immediate use of the field. She said she could get a breakdown on the cost of upgrading the field without lighting.
Commissioners directed Nabors and Millender to bring back estimates of the cost of upgrading the field to the next meeting.