Splash pad, batting cages, miracle field eyed for Rec Center expansion
Parks and Recreation Director Ron Pulley presented a proposal to the Parks Advisory Board that was previously extended by the Gulf Breeze Sports Association (GBSA) last year providing the city permission to use $70,000 worth of GBSA dollars to construct some type of permanent structure housing batting cages on a small practice field located at the recreation center property.
The discussion eventually led to a topic of conversation broached some time ago about the possibility for a miracle field to accommodate the handicap population here in Gulf Breeze. And to cap off the evening meeting, Parks and Recreation Assistant Director Kathy Wortham took the floor to discuss plans in the works for a splash pad to be positioned in a 70-foot x 90-foot plot of already fenced terrain at Sunset Kids Park.
While none of these improvements would be an immediate undertaking, the Parks Advisory Board is confident that all of these add-ons to the Gulf Breeze Community Center are highly coveted items that would be frequented just as much as the new sand volleyball courts. Assistant to the City Manager Nathan Ford termed the newly constructed courts “the new asset in our quiver.”
Parks and recreation staff member Mark Gipson said, “The kids are already wearing it out.” He added, “I think it’s going to be a really great thing.”
Pulley commented, “That’s the beauty of what we do.” He added, jokingly, “I told [Ford] just a little while ago, if it wasn’t for all these little kids running around we could keep this place looking really good!”
The Board members unanimously approved the concept of constructing batting cages on the small practice field site at the northern boundary of Shoreline Park North. Pulley said the project was initially postponed due to the opportunity to move forward with a couple of unanticipated projects including the sand volleyball courts and the dog park expansion. However, this also provided staff with the prospect of a new design suggested by one of the council members just prior to the holidays, upgrading the concept for the batting cages from simply an outdoor facility to a roofed or even completely enclosed facility.
While the original project was expected to cost $69,854, the roofed stricture is anticipated to cost only $15,000 more, with an enclosed building on that site costing only an additional $21,000 to $22,000 more.
“At this point, we are actually considering proposing to counsel that instead of just the batting cages, we would like to propose a full-blown building for this purpose on that site,” Pulley said.
Pulley commented to the Parks Advisory Board, “The need for batting cages, it just provides such a good opportunity for practice and skill development for the kids; and we just don’t have enough of them.”
Board member Paul Snider seconded Pulley’s comments, stating, “It’s badly needed and the park doesn’t have enough cages.” He added, “That tiny field doesn’t get used very much at all. I think this is a fantastic use for it. I’d love to see it happen.”
Newly appointed Board Chair Lynn Howe used this opportunity to once again broach the subject of a handicap, or miracle, field at that site or another available site at the recreation center.
“We did discuss that at one time,” Howe said. “But it never went any further.”
Howe explained that all that is required of a miracle field is that it’s paved, preferably now according to the Miracle League with a hard rubberized surface to better accommodate children with all types of disabilities. The hard surface allows for children in wheelchairs to participate in activities. Howe further pointed out that it is not required to be regulation size; it is usually much smaller. The closest miracle field to Gulf Breeze at this time is out on Nine Mile Rd.
Pulley commented that while there might be another opportunity in the park, the particular area in question was more suited to the batting cages.
“There may be another area in the park where we can consider that if there’s a need and if there’s enough of a participation level to justify it,” Pulley said. “Moving forward with [the batting cages] does not make the concept of a miracle field in Gulf Breeze a dead topic. We can certainly visit that and we can certainly seek out a possible location for that if that’s something that the Parks Advisory Board wants us to consider.”
Pulley assured the Board he would venture out on the grounds to see what might be available.
Deputy City Manager Samantha Abell pointed out to the Board that the understanding for this plot of open field that was to be transformed into batting cages is that staff anticipates using $70,000 in funds provided by the GBSA. “If we’re talking about a handicap field then that would be general fund monies that would have to go to counsel for approval,” Abell explained.
Even with the possible change in plans from an outdoor facility to an indoor facility, the Board would be approaching the council for the additional funds. “There is nothing budgeted so they would have to do a budget amendment,” Abell said.
Ford also pointed out that some costs from the outdoor estimate of just under $70,000 might become a moot point should they switch to an indoor structure.
“Some of the hardware would change if it was an enclosed building, potentially reducing the costs,” he said. Wortham agreed, stating, “Any time you have an outdoor facility you’ve got to purchase the type of equipment that can withstand weather, so that [increases] the cost right there. If we had a roof over [it] or a building, then you could go to indoor-grade equipment.”
Moving along to the splash pad envisioning suggested by Board member Jodi West last summer, Wortham informed the Board that she and Gipson visited six splash pads in one day trying to garner ideas and what the city would be looking at money-wise.
“We saw everything from the basic … a little concrete pad with spouts coming out … you can have anything from a $50,000 splash pad all the way up to a $350,000 to $500,000 splash pad,” Wortham said. “It just depends on how far you want to go … They all basically do the same job, it’s just the matter of the effect that you want. This is kind of the same thing with the water features; it can go anywhere from toddler-type play all the way up to teen to even adult … Of course our recommendation is we want one of everything,” she said jokingly.
Wortham also explained about the flow-through system, which is highly recommended, versus the type of system that would require chlorination.
“One of the things that excited me, was when they said the flow-through system doesn’t involve chlorination because unfortunately at my old parks and recreation department, I was over the pools,” Wortham said. “I say unfortunately because they’re a nightmare … It’s expensive, and there’s a lot to keep up with it and there’s just a lot of responsibility to keep reporting to the health department.”
City Consultant Vernon Prather confirmed that the spot currently being considered for the placement of the splash pad is conducive to a flow-through system. “So this is just fresh water running through all the time, which is more cost-effective and you don’t have to hire fulltime lifeguards, you don’t have to keep up with the chemicals, so that’s very good news that our site be able to have that type of system,” said Wortham.
It was also discussed whether broom-finished concrete versus a more porous rubberized material would be best for the surface area. While West suggested they steer clear of concrete because, dealing with toddlers, the more porous material could “hold more ‘thunk,’” Gipson pointed out that it would be double the cost, as concrete would still need to be poured prior to installation, and the maintenance would be greater because the rubberized surface would more easily accumulate bacteria. “Concrete is just going to dry,” Gipson said. “The sun will bleach it out.”
While details will still need to be finalized, all of the Board members were definitely on board with the project.
Board member Midgie Schluter commented, “It’s just so hot; it seems like it would be so refreshing.” Board member Cissi Milford actually expressed her concern that it might be too good of a thing, stating, “The only problem I see really is that the pad is going to be packed… If there is anything that has to do with water, everybody will be there. So if you can build it, I think it would be very, very populated.”
Abell referred to Navarre Park in saying that the project doesn’t have to be anything huge. “It’s not fancy,” said Abell of the splash pad at Navarre Park. “It’s not overbuilt… [But] when my kids were little, that was the place [to go].”
Wortham discussed also the possibility of adding on little-by-little. “[We] can have the water spouts coming through and the kids can play straight off the concrete… and as you grow, if you had to, you could spec it out into sections where you could come back and put in a little low-to-ground piece of equipment like an alligator’s head that squirts [water]… it can get as elaborate as you want.”
With the Board in approval of the direction in which staff was wanting to take the project, Pulley said the next step in the process would be to secure a consultant to give the city a basic recommended design and a cost estimate for construction. “We can bring [that] back to you and give you an opportunity to see it at our next meeting,” said Pulley. “We have time because we’re about a year away.”
Abell and Ford just offered one significant piece of advice for the Board, “You don’t want to have a ribbon cutting for a splash pad in December!”