Many changes and improvements are underway at Tom Varn Park in Brooksville. New ADA playground equipment is being installed. Also in the works are restroom replacement, construction of a splash pad, and stadium bleacher rehab.
Some of the playground equipment has been installed and a ribbon cutting will be planned in the near future.
The Splash Pad project [Design/Build] was out to bid and closed on Nov. 23.
Restroom(s) – any/all Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) restroom projects that have been approved by City Council are being addressed through the General Fund or grant possibilities. The city is submitting a legislative funding request to upgrade three restroom facilities at city parks. Tom Varn Park would be a restroom replacement, McKethan Park would be a restroom renovation project and the Russell Street Park restroom project would be a relocation/replacement. The city is asking for $187,500 from the state and will provide an equal local match.
On Nov. 15, 2021 Brooksville City Council approved the task order for the scope of work for the retro/repair/rehab of Tom Varn Park Stadium Bleachers/Seating and ADA Compliance. DRMP, Inc is the engineer who will be completing the scope of work for $72,340. It was stated during the meeting that it may take up to nine months to complete the scope of work and that does not include construction plans.
Mayor Pat Brayton expressed concern about the nine month time frame and the many exceptions listed in the task order proposal. No representatives from DRMP, Inc. were present at the meeting.
In addition to the task order cost, the pre construction estimate for rehabbing the stadium bleachers is $236,643.60 per wall using the structural L-Wall option. The pre-construction estimate for the ADA/accessibility component is $97,000. The total pre-construction estimate is $570,287.20.
The stadium field has been closed to the public since June 30, 2021 and it may not be until 2023 that repairs are finished.
City resident Michael Burman urged the city council to take the time to get it right, but in the meantime perhaps they could consider bracing the walls to make the structure usable during the long rehabilitation process and open the field for use.
Ron Snowberger, city manager, brought up the point of liability, commenting on the engineering report which stated that the stadium structure is unsound/ unsafe with stress cracking and walls bowing. He remarked that they would need to determine what can be done to ensure safety and if there can be safeguards put in place while the stadium is being repaired and if it’s feasible to utilize the structure at the same time.
Mayor Brayton remarked that the engineer said yes that could be done, but it would be a totally separate project.
The Hernando High softball program is a top program in the state. Last year they were state runners-up. Tom Varn Park is their home, so the Hernando High softball team is a major stakeholder in seeing the stadium successfully repaired.
Kevin Bittinger Hernando High School softball coach remarked, “What I love about Brooksville is the sense of pride and the sense of community it has. And I think it would be a shame if we lost that facility, if we lost the stadium. I think the girls in the softball program take a great deal of pride. That’s their home. And what I worry about is if we stop offering these places, if we tear that down- yes it will still be a facility, but it’s not the same. How do we expect the girls in the softball program or the youth to come back here and to continue that sense of pride… It’s a fantastic place to play ball. I would just ask that you do it right, get it done. If it takes a couple years, it takes a couple years, but that structure needs to stick around.”
Hernando High Athletic Director Mark Lee explained that they hold a major tournament at Tom Varn which attracts about 18 teams to the area to compete. This is a big economic driver for the community. Since the stadium field is closed this year, they will only be hosting 12 teams.
Lee said that the Leopard Slam tournament is one of the top three tournaments in the state of Florida.
Lee, originally from West Virginia, remarked about Hernando High, “It’s a true community school. You don’t see that anywhere else I’ve been. I’ve worked at every high school in this county except for Central High School and there’s nothing in comparison to the community support that you get here.”
Lee also commented on the annual cost of using the facilities at Tom Varn now that the best field is no longer available.
“One of the things that I got to bring up from an AD standpoint is the cost. We spend $20,000 a year to use that facility for 96 days. I think that if we are not able to use that field, that is something we need to bring down. It needs to be negotiated down. Because $20,000 we’re paying for that venue. That’s one of the top venues in the state. If not the top venue in the state of Florida for high school softball. To give you an analogy of it, that would be like going to Enterprise car rental and you spend the money to drive a Mercedes. You pay that money, you show up and they give you a Pinto. That’s what the difference would be…”
Council member Betty Erhard remarked that the stadium rehab project is an investment in our community. She made a motion to accept the task order.
The motion was approved 4-1 with Battista voting nay.