New Soccer Field "Not Meant to Save You Money" | Politics

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New Soccer Field "Not Meant to Save You Money"
New Soccer Field "Not Meant to Save You Money"

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The state of the art, synthetic soccer field the city is building at Losco Regional Park is one-of-a-kind for Jacksonville. 

The plan was pioneered by Jacksonville City Council member Art Shad who said he was not trying to save money by using synthetic material on the field built in Mandarin. "We didn't make this investment with the idea that we were going to save money."

But Shad, as a councilman for the last eight years, has been  constantly battling the city's deficit. 

When asked about the expenditure in the face of the city's $60 million debt, he said, "every decision we make for spending money we have to weigh the pros and cons, and keep the overall budget in mind."

"Once again, we did not ever declare or claim this was going to save money."

Each square foot of the park is costing taxpayers about $7.33; at 90,000 square feet, the total bill is nearly $660,000.

Resident Holly Magiera said she has concerns about the cost of this project. "Well I'm not sure the cost of the synthetic field is worth it, considering that a grass field is a lot less. And with our deficit the way it is, we should probably save our money for other things."

Shad sticks by his position. "That's her opinion and she's welcome to it. I was elected by the citizens of the city, of District 5, to make the best decisions that I could, and I'm doing it."

"This decision, improvement is not being done to save money or break even.  It's being done to provide a great facility for the users of the park."

The cost for a new surface for this size field would be around $100,000. Under heavy use, the grass would need to be replaced about every five years. 

Shad said the synthetic material used on this field at Losco is expected to last between 15 and 20 years. But, Bryan O'Neal, a spokesman for Astroturf, the manufacturer of the product the city is using, seems to disagree.

"Synthetic fields are under warranty for like an eight-year period, an eight- to 10-year period, but they can last longer than that.  But after the eight-year period, a lot of them are replaced."

To replace the surface every 10 years at $660,000, minus two total replacement fields of grass every five years at $100,000 each, equals $200,000. Not including maintenance costs, which are higher with grass, the city would save about $460,000 over a 10-year period.

When asked about a conflict of interest, since he lives and represents District 5 where the park is being built, he said,  "That's my job. You know, there are three soccer parks in District 5 and I have a child that plays in all three of them."

The city's budget is divided into a number of segments, and Shad said there are two separate components of the budget involved in the field. The operational budget would pay for the park staff, maintaining the grounds and all recurring costs.  The capital budget would be used to pay for new projects, like this new field.

"This 650,000 could not be used to cover the deficit this year," said Shad.

But, if the money for the field and similar projects went unused at the end of the city's fiscal year, it could be redirected to an emergency fund the city is building in the event of a hurricane or similar widespread disasters.

But Shad said he didn't think it would be better to save the money. "Once again, I feel comfortable with this decision and making this investment for our city."

The field is using about 15 to 20 percent of the city's park improvements section of the capital improvements fund this year.

"It's a bigger number, yes. I'm not real familiar with the expenditure with that fund, but that seems to be a decent chunk of it, certainly," said Shad.

This project did not have to go through an entire 19-member city council vote, as the money in this capital fund is approved annually, and each project does not need full council approval.

Tomorrow on First Coast News, we will look at other parks that are not getting this type of funding.

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