VENICE – Restoration of the turf at Wellfield Park will expand beyond one soccer field 2 to include enhancement of the football field at Letson Stadium, financed in part by a $60,000 grant approved by the Gulf Coast Community Foundation.
The Venice City Council approved a $142,000 budget change June 28, which included Gulf Coast’s contribution.
Once Sarasota County’s in-house work on the fields is factored in, the total project cost is projected to be $162,200.
More than 600 youths make use of the three soccer fields at Wellfield through the Venice Soccer Club. Of the three, Field 2 was in the worst shape.
David Jarvis, president of the Venice Soccer Club, and Venice Public Works Director Charlie Mopps explained field conditions to the council on May 10 and asked the board to earmark up to $65,000 to renovate the field and treat the ground for nematodes.
News reports on those conditions caught the eye of Gulf Coast President and CEO Mark Pritchett, who was aware of the intense use of the playing fields and contacted Jon Thaxton, the foundation’s senior vice president for community investment, to discuss the issue.
“I said, 'Jon, I drive by those fields all the time and they are heavily used with the kids and with adults on weekends sometimes,'” Pritchett said.
He later noted that after the more restrictive days of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was even more important to make sure youths have a safe place to play.
“We owe it to these kids who were stuck at home because of COVID; they missed a year of their lives” Pritchett said. “What better project than where we can help our kids to get them outside in organized sports and enjoying the outdoors with their families and neighbors.
“To me it was an obvious win for everyone.”
Three core missions of the foundation involve affordable housing, mental health and the environment.
Pritchett said contributing to the renovation of the youth fields fits that environmental component similar to contributions to the Legacy Trail.
“Sometimes if we throw in what we call start-up or catalytic money that gets it going faster, it can speed up the process,” Pritchett said. “We can speed this up for the kids and it will be great for the community.”
With the fiscal year coming to a close and money available in the Venice Endowment, the foundation contacted Venice Assistant City Manager James Clinch about contributing.
Clinch got with Sarasota County and quickly a partnership was born.
“It’s a big deal, it basically took the project we had and doubled in size and scope,” Clinch said. Instead of being able to restore just the one soccer field – which is still a big project in and of itself – we’re now able to do two fields, including the Letson Stadium football field
“Both of these fields are in dire need of restoration work,” he added. “It will be a much better brand new playing surface for the kids, when the leagues start up this fall.”
Clinch explained that they are not merely laying down fresh sod.
Work will include stripping the turf off of the existing field, replacing irrigation equipment, adding fresh fill dirt and grading the surface.
Contractors paid by the city of Venice will then treat the soil with pesticides to kill the nematodes, then bring in new rolled Bermuda sod designed for athletic fields.
Sod should be rolled on the soccer field in about two weeks and on the football field the week after that.
“They’ll be closed while the sod gets established," Clinch said. "But the whole project should be over in the next four to six weeks."
Earle Kimel primarily covers south Sarasota County for the Herald-Tribune and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Support local journalism with a digital subscription to the Herald-Tribune.
This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Gulf Coast Community Foundation grant to aid in field restoration