By Betsy LaBelle
The Wellington Village Council approved a resolution Tuesday to transfer $2.5 million from one park project to another in order to more quickly make additional multi-use sports fields available to the community.
The change will allow the village to build new fields at Greenbriar Park, located at 2975 Greenbriar Blvd., adjacent to the existing Wellington Dog Park.
Greenbriar Park phase one will include the construction of two fields, with space available for two additional fields.
The fields will be multi-purpose fields designed to accommodate various recreational sports and activities.
The field’s base surface will consist of Bermuda grass, and the field size will allow for a degree of flexibility, since lines of play can be marked for different sports perimeters.
Village Manager Paul Schofield said that the project was moved up to accommodate calls for additional field space.
“We will start with phase one and the parking that goes with it,” Schofield said. “We will have this under construction as soon as possible. This project has had enough interest, and we have heard you all loud and clear.”
The project repurposes Greenbriar Park. While the nearby dog park has long been a fixture in the community, the majority of the park has been vacant, undeveloped space that has in recent years served as a village tree nursery and as a debris site after Hurricane Irma.
The multipurpose fields will be built over a stormwater management site, along with a parking lot, concession area, storage and restrooms.
With the urgency for more open-play fields, the council is hoping to have two fields built by 2019.
In order to accomplish that, the council approved re-allocating the funds from one park to another. The money will come from Wellington’s share of the county sales surtax, which began accumulating in January 2017.
The initial plan was for the first major project using surtax funds to be the renovations to South Shore Park, previously known as Wellington Community Park, which has been underutilized since the Boys & Girls Club moved to a new location on Wellington Trace.
The old Boys & Girls Club building is being used for storage, but the six ball fields are still being used, primarily for baseball and softball. A planned $5 million project will renovate the old building to a new gymnasium with indoor basketball courts.
Instead of doing that project first, the village will begin both park projects simultaneously in phases.
Even with the budget amendment, it will take some time for the Greenbriar Park project to be completed.
“This will be a several-year project,” Schofield said. “The fields will be done as we have available funds, and lighting will be done in other sections. Each field costs about a million dollars without the lighting. The lighting is about $800,000. So, we are looking at $5 million budgeted in the future.”
Wellington’s Parks & Recreation Advisory Board, sitting as the Surtax Citizen Oversight Committee, agreed that the village projects using money from the county’s 1-cent sales surtax fund complies with the rules in place for use of the funding.
The surtax dollars will continue into next year’s budget for both parks. The two parks will move through a parallel phasing process. Once village staff is through with design for Greenbriar Park, they will begin improvements to the existing fields at South Shore Park.
Projected in the Greenbriar Park plans are four multi-purpose fields and the associated improvements. The existing volleyball courts will remain.
“The schedule on South Shore Park is not being delayed,” Schofield said. “We are moving around funds in the capital budget. There was about $2.5 million in unallocated sales tax funds that are moving into this.”
Mayor Anne Gerwig noted that the need for the new fields is a necessity for the community, and other council members agreed.
Four residents addressed the council about their want for an allocated field for lacrosse.
Ted Miloch supported the additional fields at Greenbriar Park and noted the strong growth in the sport of lacrosse in Wellington. He said that lacrosse players have been asked to leave when they want to practice on several of Village Park’s fields.
As a former president and coach for the Wellington Wolfpack lacrosse program, he wants the fields to not just be multi-use, but for the council to allocate a field to lacrosse.
“Lacrosse has not gotten the same treatment as other sports that have dedicated facilities,” Miloch said. “There are more than 10 teams and approximately 200 kids who participate in the program.”
He noted that the local lacrosse program has grown dramatically since 2007.
“They have grown from 20 kids to over 200 in 10 years, and yet we have nothing dedicated to lacrosse year-round,” Miloch said. “The lacrosse rec season starts in January, and then a travel season runs April through June, and then another travel season starts in October. It’s an opportunity to help kids get off the streets and play year-round.”
Gerwig said additional discussion will be necessary before a decision is made about dedicating fields to just one sport. “Our staff is protective over our fields,” she said. “I understand your concern. We have to work together to solve this problem.”
Councilman Michael Drahos also said he understood their concerns.
“That’s the great thing about Wellington. We don’t even have these fields built yet, and there are people here lobbying for it to be their field,” Drahos said. “I am excited about this project. This is a far better use of this property than what we are currently using it for.”
He supported getting to the four fields at Greenbriar as soon as possible.
Existing amenities at Greenbriar Park include the dog park, a gazebo, a playground, restrooms, sand volleyball courts, a swing set and water fountains.