TAMPA, Fla. — The I-Team learned the Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation Department continues to build new facilities despite not being able to maintain the 233 fields they already own.
“These kids look forward to these games and these practices,” said Shelly Wilson. She was at Skyway Park with her son on a recent Saturday.
They were participating in a summer training camp to prepare for the upcoming football season.
Football, baseball and soccer fields countywide are covered with players.
“We have over 30,000 kids in athletics in this county,” said Scott Levinson, the Tampa Bay Youth Football League Executive Director.
But not all fields are covered with grass.
“It’s just a pile of dirt right now. So they can easily get injured,” said parent Gary Lucas, pointing to a nearby field that looks like a sandlot.
“There hasn't been the money to maintain these properties and keep them in playing shape,” said Bill Barrett.
Barrett is the Vice Chairman of the Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. They're recommending more money for maintenance.
“We've made a request for $2.5 million a year for the past three years and it has not been funded,” Barrett said.
He says the county has made no money available for maintenance.
“This field here is all on us,” said Levinson.
He added that fields can cost as much as $30,000 a year to maintain.
Football leagues and community groups currently raise money to fertilize and sod county fields.
But parks in low-income communities often don't have support.
“It almost becomes a two-tier system... the haves and the have-nots, of whether the fields are maintained or not,” said Barrett.
And even well-used facilities, like the artificial turf field at Skyway Park, have had problems.
The county shut down and replaced the old field because several-inch drop-offs made it too dangerous to play on.
The replacement cost was $350,000, even though the old field should have still been under warranty.
“The warranty was actually voided because the maintenance wasn't done on it,” said Barrett.
We visited more than a dozen county parks and found multiple fields with deep holes or little grass.
“If they step in a hole and they fall and break their kneecap, that affects them for the rest of their life,” said Barrett.
County basketball and tennis courts were in similar states of disrepair.
The operating budget for Parks and Recreation is $26 million. But it has a $94 million capital budget, which comes mostly from impact fees.
While many fields are in disrepair, Hillsborough County continues to spend big bucks on new sports fields.
A new complex with 16 soccer fields is going up in Southeast Hillsborough County.
Construction will cost $17 million dollars.
When completed, the facility will host regional tournaments.
“It doesn't make sense to build new parks and you have ones already established that you're not taking care of,” said Lucas.
“I think they should invest in what they already have and make it safer,” said parent Emanuel Polanco.
Barrett proposes fixing the problem by selling corporate naming rights. Starting at $5,000 for tennis courts and going up to $25,000 for high-use stadiums.
“The NFL does it. I'm sure those organizations would love to put money towards organizations built to develop our youth,” said Lucas.
Similar programs have raised millions in other places, but the practice isn't currently allowed in Hillsborough County.
Commissioners could vote on it later this summer, just in time for football season.
“Our park system should be a treasure,” said Barrett.
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