WELLINGTON — The Village and Palm Beach County School District are considering an agreement that would bring new Village-operated public-use recreation facilities to the Wellington High School campus, including courts and basketball courts and of tennis.
The project is the evolution of a plan to build multipurpose fields and maintenance facilities and toilets on village land next to its dog park. That project, the proposed Greenbriar Park, would cost about $12 million and be paid for using part of Wellington’s slice of the half-cent sales tax voted in 2016 by Palm Beach County voters.
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But building the park there would deprive Wellington of an asset that proved essential for the rapid collection of debris after Hurricane Irma: a large piece of land where such debris could be collected, crushed and spat into trucks for a more efficient transportation to the largest disposal site in the county. .
Enter Wellington High School.
Wellington trustees and staff began discussing the possibility late last year of building this park not on one of Wellington’s last large vacant lots, but on the Wellington High campus.
The village has completed the design phase of Greenbriar Park, but last month the village council approved the expenditure of around $25,000 for two consultants to study the construction of new recreational facilities at Wellington High.
PAST COVER: Two Big Wellington Parks Projects Underway With Sales Tax Money
The Wellington High concept includes:
- Move the tennis courts on the west side of the school further south
- Creation of four multipurpose fields on the northwest side of the property
- Added parking lots and basketball courts next to the new courts
- Resurfacing of the school football field
- Construction of a competition swimming pool and a parking lot at the southeast corner of the property
At a village council workshop and meeting last month, village deputy headmaster Jim Barnes told council that moving the project to Wellington Secondary School gives the village “more for its money”. Wellington would be able to build more and better facilities for less money, he said, estimating the estimated cost of the project not including the swimming pool at around $12 million.
“It’s a no-brainer in my opinion,” Barnes told the Palm Beach Post on Friday. “The winners are the people and young people of Wellington.”
The village would be able to do more with its high school money with the existing infrastructure at this property, Barnes said. “We’re not starting with a totally new site that has no improvements,” he said, referring to the Greenbriar Park site.
Not having to build infrastructure would also allow Wellington to put synthetic turf on new fields, a higher initial cost but less costly in terms of maintenance, Barnes told the council.
The project would be completed in phases, with the new stadium surface first, followed by pitches, basketball courts, tennis courts and support facilities, Barnes said. The pool would be a third phase if council approves. The pool was added to the draft agreement between the village and the school district should that decision be made at some point in the future, Barnes said. “We wanted to make sure the interlocal (the deal) could accommodate it,” he said.
The district sees three major benefits of partnering with Wellington, said Kristin Garrison, director of planning and intergovernmental relations for the school district.
First, she says, the district does not have the money to build and maintain sports facilities at the same level as Wellington. Second, the village would pay for the upkeep of these on-campus facilities, saving the district even more money, she said.
“You’ve seen the Wellington facilities,” she said. “They are doing a good job.”
Third, if the council approves construction of the pool, Wellington High School would be one of only three schools in the district to have one on campus.
The facilities would be open to residents on weekends and from around 6 p.m. on weekdays, Barnes said.
It wouldn’t be the first time Wellington has partnered with the Palm Beach County School District to build public recreation facilities on school grounds. The softball fields, media room and dugout canoes at Tiger Shark Cove Park are on school property, Barnes said. Wellington’s Olympia Park is owned by the village but shares a border and some facilities with Emerald Cove Middle School, he added.
Mayor Anne Gerwig, at the February 12 village council meeting, asked what might happen if state lawmakers ever pass new rules for school safety that lock campuses from outdoor uses.
“If for some reason there’s a change tomorrow, next week, next year, 10 years, that’s not the only site that would be affected,” Barnes said. Village attorney Laurie Cohen said protections against such a situation could be written into the village lease.
School safety will be considered during planning, Barnes said.
The village has approved spending much of its sales tax money on two major park projects: Greenbriar Park and Community Park. At Community Park – the former Boys and Girls Club on South Shore Boulevard – the grounds and parking lot would be reconfigured, and the building would be demolished and rebuilt as a new gymnasium.
Wellington estimates he will receive about $35 million over the 10-year lifespan of the half-cent sales tax.