The latest bids for Pensacola’s plan to build soccer fields and upgrade Hitzman-Optimist Park is $575,000 over budget, so Mayor Grover Robinson is proposing cuts to from other park projects to fund the shortfall.
Pensacola plans to build three new soccer fields on the site of the former Northeast Pensacola YMCA on Langley Avenue, and the new fields will become part of Hitzman-Optimist Park.
The city has budgeted about $1.9 million for construction of the new fields and improvements to Hitzman-Optimist park to include a walking trail, a new restroom and concessions building, upgraded lights design to cut down on light pollution outside of the park and new stormwater drainage for the park.
The current bids to build the fields and upgrades are about $575,000 higher than what the city has budgeted for the park, according to city spokesperson Kayce Lagarde.
To make up the shortfall, Robinson’s administration is posing cutting funds from 13 projects in the city’s Local Option Sales Tax fund.
Included in the cuts are projects to parks and community centers that serve Pensacola’s low-income residents. Some of the cuts will come in future years such as a $50,000 cut to Morris Court Park improvements set for 2026, and $60,000 cut to the Cobb Resource Center set for 2022.
Other cuts will come out of this year’s budget, including $50,000 for the Theophalis May Resource Center, $60,000 for the Woodland Heights Resource Center and $49,264 for the Fricker Resource Center.
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Pensacola Parks and Recreation Department Director Brian Cooper said that some of the money being pulled were for potential maintenance to newer facilities, such as Morris Court and Theophalis May, that may not need spending from sales tax money over the course of the current local option sales tax plan.
Local option Sales Tax funding is planned out in 10-year increments and the current local option sales tax plan began in 2018.
Other projects where money is being pulled from will still happen just with reduced funding, Cooper said.
“I don’t know what we’re going to leave out,” Cooper said about cutting from other projects. “I really don’t, but I know that I can still do a quality project.”
Cooper said if it was going to adversely effect any park or community center, he wouldn’t have made the recommendation to the mayor, adding his department works every day to save and free up money on projects using savings of grant funds.
“At the end of the day, the project is going to be a quality project done with integrity,” Cooper said.
Robinson said Monday during his weekly press conference that the shortfall is because of the new restroom planned for the park.
“We fully believe that new restroom facilities are one of the most important things out there at Hitzman and the soccer field,” Robinson said. “We think they need to be done, and it’s the right thing for us to be doing. And we’re going to keep pushing that forward, however, it’s going to be up to the council to make those decisions.”
The bids the city received back were the second-round as a previous round of bids for the project came in $700,000 over budget, according to Lagarde.
The bids returned in the second round were lower, but still $575,000 over budget.
“We certainly tried to get as competitive a bid as we could,” Robinson said. “We still have a little bit overage from the estimate. And so, we’re trying to work from there to figure out that shortfall, and we’re going to keep moving forward with what we presented to Council. They’ll make that decision, but if we can’t find some way to put some funds from other projects in there, then we will have to look at reducing out the restroom facility.”
The plan to build the soccer fields at Hitzman park was one of the first controversies Robinson faced in his term as mayor.
Robinson faced down large crowds of residents of the Scenic Heights neighborhood opposed to the plan on the grounds of the traffic, noise pollution or losing access to the YMCA the project would bring. On the flip side were members of the local soccer community and parents of youth soccer players who wanted the city to move forward with the project.
The city made changes to its plan in response to the controversy, including adding a walking trail and constructing a berm on the southern side of the fields to shield the neighborhoods adjacent to the park from noise.
The city also is building a new roundabout at the intersection of Langley Avenue and Hilltop Drive in response to the concerns over traffic and speeding on the road that were brought forward at meetings over the park.
The construction on the $633,000 roundabout is expected to be completed by the end of October. Robinson said Monday he hopes construction on the soccer fields could begin as soon as the roundabout is finished.
The Pensacola City Council will decide what to do about the budget for the soccer field project at its next regular meeting on Sept. 10.
Jim Little can be reached at [email protected] and 850-208-9827.