People take advantage of the open field off the Poinciana Community Center on Marigold Avenue, but a local group wants Polk County commissioners to fully commit to building a new park nearby. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

POINCIANA – A growing chorus of frustrated voices in Poinciana is calling on Polk County commissioners to devote more attention – and money – to the community, and in particular invest now in a public park and new high school on the Polk County side of Poinciana.
“My experience with Polk County is they have always been difficult releasing money up in this end of the county,” said Pastor Henry Vernon. “They are cheap up here.”
Vernon is a member of the Poinciana Economic Development Alliance, a group working to promote more jobs and business growth in Poinciana, a community made up of 10 villages that cut across Polk and Osceola counties.
The majority of the residents, more than 50,000, live on the Osceola County side, where most of the schools and parks in Poinciana are. There are about 30,000 residents on the Polk County side, which has far fewer services funded by Polk taxpayers.
PEDA held its monthly meeting on Wednesday at the Poinciana Community Center, and decided to make a major push for getting a high school and public park built in Poinciana’s Village 7, on the Polk County side.
With the population in Poinciana rising, “We not only need a high school but an elementary school there as well,” said Nick Murdock, the chairman of PEDA. There are several elementary schools on the Polk County side now, including Palmetto Elementary and Lake Marion Creek. But as Murdock noted, Lake Marion was originally supposed to be a middle school, and there is talk of making that transition, which means the community would need a new elementary school to replace it.
”When we talk about needing a high school, I don’t think we’ll have problems with enrollment,” Murdock said.
But in addition to pushing for a school to get built there, PEDA also wants Polk County commissioners to commit to full funding now for a public park in Poinciana. But Polk County is building the park in phases, and so far only the funding for phase one has been allocated.
If that’s all the county commits to right now, said PEDA member Wendy Farrell, the park won’t amount to much.
“It’s basically a piece of field,” she said.
Murdock agreed, and said if Polk County can’t find the money to built the entire park now as envisioned, the alliance may have to see if there are private funds available to assist with this project.
“We’re going to try to get the additional funding for the park, because the second phase of it is not in the five-year plan,” he said. That means after the first phase has been completed, Poinciana would have to wait another five years before work could begin on the second phase.
“Right now, we have to wait five years to get the additional funding,” Murdock said.
“Everyone wants to see the park done, but doing it this way doesn’t make any sense,” said PEDA member Don Gordon. “I question how successful it will be for the entire community just to build phase one this way. I want to see them get it done, but I want to see them get it done right.”
Right now, Polk County has about $4.3 million in funding available for the first phase of the construction work on this park. The total cost of the project would be about $7 million.
The new park will be built in Village 7. Phase one on the 28-acre park that will be constructed in multiple stages, and is expected to eventually include four baseball and softballs fields, three football-sized multi-purpose fields, a dog park, and two concession stands and restroom facilities. Phase one is expected to take about nine months to complete. The initial construction work will include the creation of access roads to the park, a parking lot, electric, water and wastewater services, a storm water retention pond, and field lighting for night use of the baseball and softball fields. The new park is going to be located right off State Road 542.
“There are three multi-purpose fields there, and Polk County is only building one of the three now,” Gordon said. “If you’re going to have little leagues there, families will come. You need more than one field.”
Making a full commitment to building the park now, Gordon added, would be a big boost to the Poinciana economy.
“With people needing construction jobs now, if we built it all today, it would be far cheaper than to build it in phases,” Gordon said.
Kissimmee Vice-Mayor Art Otero, who sat in on the PEDA meeting, said Polk County commissioners don’t seem to recognize Poinciana.
“What I see in Polk County is Poinciana is closer to Osceola, and they are closer to Lakeland and Bartow,” Otero said. “When people bring complaints to them, you’ll see more action.”
Vernon said it might also be time to consider something else: a political solution. He noted that Osceola County has single member districts for its county commissioners, whereas Polk County commissioners are elected countywide, and therefore are more likely to respond to cities like Lakeland and Winter Haven, where the bulk of the votes are.
“We’re going to push for single member districts in Polk County as well,” Vernon said.
Murdock said he would also invite Polk commissioners to attend the next PEDA meeting on May 2 at the Poinciana Community Center, to discuss these issues.
“We want to repeatedly inundate them in the month of April,” he said.

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