Monday, July 30, 2007

More Kids could play ball

Published by the Pensacola News Journal

Published - July, 30, 2007

More kids could play ball

$1.4 million deal would lead to bigger Bauer Road park

An Escambia County Commission decision this week could lead to a field of dreams for a lot of young athletes.The County Commission is scheduled to vote Thursday whether to spend$1.4 million to purchase more than 200 acres of property off Bauer Road to replace Baars Field. A county appraisal determined how much the commission will offer.

The cramped complex is home to the Perdido Bay Youth Sports Association. If the purchase is approved, the burgeoning youth sports organization would get the room it needs to grow."It definitely will alleviate some overcrowding," said Bruce Barrios, president of the PBYSA. "And it will bring all our programs onto one field."It also could reduce traffic concerns. Two people were seriously injured in an automobile accident near Baars Field during a softball tournament in June."We just need the space," Barrios said. "We've just outgrown it (Baars Field)."

The association has added hundreds of kids the past couple of years and now has at least 1,500 kids playing baseball, softball and soccer, Barrios said.Baars Field is a well-worn complex of baseball fields wedged in between Gulf Beach Highway and Sorrento Road, behind a Winn-Dixie shopping center.

About four years ago, to accommodate the growth of soccer, Sacred Heart Hospital leased a few acres it owns nearby to the youth league for the increasingly popular sport. But there are no lights, so when it gets dark the soccer players have to move over to the ball fields, which are lighted. It means coordinating with the baseball teams to get on their fields that are not in use, said soccer coach John Guidroz. But it's a better situation than before."The whole soccer league used to play in the outfield out there," Guidroz said. "Whenever we have land, it's a shared commodity.

"Pat Heye's 13-year-old son, Dylan, has played soccer in the youth league for seven years. The young soccer player may be too old to enjoy the new park when it's done, if the land purchase goes through and the park is completed in two or three years as anticipated.But that's OK."It will be good for the community," Heye said. "You'll see on Saturday, especially in the fall season, this place is just covered with people.

"The new park will have at least a dozen ball fields. Baars Field has five. The new park also will have multiuse fields to accommodate soccer and possibly football.Most children in that area now go to Myrtle Grove or Beulah if they want to play football, Barrios said. If the league starts football, the young athletes might get to stay closer to home with the new sports complex."It's going to be a big ballpark," Barrios said.

That fits into the mold of other large county parks, the county's director of parks and recreation Kevin Briski said.The county has looked years for suitable property for the park before finding this land off Bauer Road. An attempt several years ago to develop Bill Dickson Park into sports fields failed after it was determined that park would have been too small and too remote for a large sports complex.

Money for the Bauer Road land purchase would come from local sales taxes. Funding to develop the park could come from grants the Federal Emergency Management Agency dedicated to rebuild the Pensacola Bay fishing pier. FEMA will allow the county to use some of that money — minus a 25 percent penalty — for other projects. Commissioners want to use some of that pier money to instead develop this park.

The money to buy the land and develop the park won't be affected by property-tax cuts, because it comes from a different source, County Administrator George Touart said. Also, a west-side park was on the list of things to do with the one-cent county sales tax voters passed.

"We're doing nothing but what the voters told us to do," Touart said.

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