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Private contractors save ballfields plan

Published January 16, 2008


The private sector may come to the rescue of children who need places to play ball in North Pinellas. 

County commissioners were about to back away from a much-touted plan to build a ballfield complex on vacant school district property at the intersection of East Lake and Keystone roads. The reason? The estimate to construct four fields, restrooms, a concession stand and parking was a whopping $7.3-million. Some commissioners doubted they could support such a figure for recreation when people in Pinellas had so many more serious needs.

Commissioners had originally planned to build the fields inside the boundary of the Brooker Creek Preserve, but a countywide public outcry against using precious preserve land for such purposes encouraged the county to look elsewhere. School officials, led by superintendent Clayton Wilcox, agreed to cooperate with the county and allow the fields to be built on a portion of the Keystone property, which was purchased and banked for a future middle school.

Would commissioners abandon the Keystone location because of the high projected cost? Would that lead them, eventually, to reconsider building ballfields somewhere inside 8,300-acre Brooker Creek Preserve? That's what local environmentalists feared.

Thankfully, some community-minded contractors have come forward to say they could do the project for less - as much as $3-million to $3.5-million less than the $7.3-million the county staff had estimated. They also had some suggestions about ways to save money, such as planting grass plugs instead of using the high-quality sod the county had proposed.

That kind of stepping up by the private sector will help communities continue to move forward as government budgets are pinched by falling revenues. Governments will not have the cash to provide all of the services and public projects that residents came to expect during the last 15 or 20 years. Volunteerism as well as community-minded offers from private businesses will be more important than ever and will help fill the gap.

Government, for its part, will need to ensure that the public still gets a good product for its dollar. Cheap building materials, for example, or construction that cuts too many corners can cost taxpayers more in the long run because projects will have to be replaced sooner or require more maintenance.

Pinellas County officials might also want to study why their staff's estimate for the Keystone ballfields was more than twice what some local contractors have suggested the project should cost.

For now, the county has invited contractors to send in proposals for the design and construction of the ballfield complex at Keystone and East Lake roads. No decisions have been made.

There is fresh reason to hope, however, that one day in the near future, children will be playing ball on the Keystone land. And nearby, nature will continue to have its way in the Brooker Creek Preserve.

[Last modified January 16, 2008, 00:13:21]

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