POINCIANA – This time of year, it might seem a bit too chilly out to be spending all day in a public park. Others, though, may prefer this kind of weather to the sweltering summer heat.
Either way, Poinciana is now gearing up for an expedited construction schedule for a park on the Polk County side of this community, one expected to be completed next year and open to local families for their enjoyment.
“That is the Village 7 sports park,” said Keith Laytham, the president of the civic group Poinciana Residents for Smart Change. “That is an early Christmas present for Poinciana.”
That presents comes courtesy of a bid by a firm in Lakeland to complete work on the Polk Poinciana Sports Park, a project that has been delayed because Polk County commissioners say the funding simply isn’t there to get this project completed.
Last week, though, commissioners approved spending $3.2 million on a contract to complete the first phase of the sports park. The contract calls for constructing the entire park, with the exception of two of the four baseball fields, and the central concession stand planned for the baseball complex.
Construction is expected to commence next month, and be completed by next 2013. When it opens, the new park is expected to have three soccer and football fields, basketball courts, a dog park and two baseball fields.
“You will see dirty flying by the end of December,” Laytham said. “You will see a park down there by early August, if not sooner.”
The new park will be built in Poinciana’s Village 7. Poinciana is home to 10 villages that cut across Polk and Osceola counties – and to more than 84,000 residents, larger than neighboring cities like Haines City and St. Cloud.
But while Poinciana has got the homes in plenty of subdivisions, the county governments have been slow to bring services to this unincorporated community. That includes amenities like public parks, which has been a top priority for local community activists.
“It’s all about community,” said Wendy Farrell, a member of the non-profit group the Poinciana Economic Development Alliance, which was formed in the summer of 2011 to help bring more jobs and economic development to the community. Earlier this year, PEDA expanded its focus to include bringing more services and recreational opportunities to the community as well.
What got the park back on track, despite the county’s financial woes, Farrell said, is the fact that many of the residents of the Polk County side of Poinciana – which has more than 31,000 people – began pushing their commissioners to take action.
“When commissioners get emails from residents asking them to support projects, it makes a difference,” Farrell said.
Until the recent Polk County commission meeting, phase one on the 28-acre park was to have been constructed in multiple stages, and to eventually include four baseball and softballs fields, three football-sized multi-purpose fields, a dog park, and two concession stands and restroom facilities.
The initial construction work was to have included 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.
But Polk County commissioners, noting that the total cost of the project was estimated at $7 million, wanted it built in two phases over a five year period. Farrell said that was simply too long to wait.
“What they wanted to build originally was useless,” she said. “One baseball diamond means you can’t even run a little league. So residents and PEDA kept telling them they need to build it all now — and we are more or less getting it all now.”
“The original concept was the park would be three soccer fields and two baseball fields, and all that good stuff,” Laytham said. “As they (commissioners) got into it, it became apparent that they wouldn’t have enough money to build the whole thing, so they decided they’re going to do it in phases.”
Both Poinciana and Polk County were hard hit by the collapse of the housing market and the national recession, which put a major dent in Polk County’s tax collections and forced cutbacks in local services. New projects became tough sells.
But as Laytham noted, local residents were not prepared to settle for half a loaf if they didn’t have to.
“The community got quite a bit upset about that and said ‘We don’t want half a park,’ ” Laytham said. “What the county then did was when they put out the (construction) bids to the bidders, they said ‘Be imaginative and tell us how much you can bid,’ and a contractor from Lakeland came in at a very low price and said ‘Hey, I can build all of it.’ ”
That’s put the entire project back on track, Laytham said.
It also shows that loud voices have an impact, Farrell said.
“I think local government knows that PEDA isn’t going away and that we will help our community and educate the community on the fact that if we want ‘stuff’ we need to ask and keep asking in large numbers,” Farrell said. “Poinciana is on the radar — now we just need to get it on a map.”
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