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Bartow city commissioners opted last week to invest in upgrading the existing soccer fields at Mary Holland Park rather than to relocate the city's primary soccer fields to Mosaic Park, which would involve the removal of some of the city’s mature trees.

Resolving the longstanding issue of unplayable fields at Mary Holland Park is going to cost the city around $700,000 and will delay the playing season until next fall. Play will continue at Mosaic Park until the major renovation is done, according to city officials.

The issue revolves around the Mary Holland Park fields construction, said Leisure Services Director Catherine Vorrasi. According to earlier reports, the fields — which are located on the southern end of the park — were constructed of clay over mined land, which creates an almost-impervious surface with minimal run-off.

Engineers have said that the clay-topped fields don't drain and the parking areas retain water, too, creating a soggy situation that makes field use minimal even during the peak of the dry season.

Commissioners had the option to spend the $700,000 at Mary Holland Park or spend $300,000 to convert space at Mosaic Park.

Bartow Soccer Club officials agreed that they would prefer to use the unimproved Mosaic fields through the summer and wait for the Mary Holland fields, even if it delays the use of those fields.

According to soccer club leaders, the city's soccer season is virtually year-round and they would gladly wait for the additional months for “top tier” fields.

Making the case against converting the Mosaic Park space was outgoing City Commissioner James Clements, who has long been a proponent of maintaining the city's image as the “city of oaks and azaleas.”

The upgrade at Mosaic would have cost the loss of numerous century-old oaks and would be an inappropriate location, due to the close proximity to neighborhood homes, the veteran commissioner said.

“I don't want us to sacrifice the number of mature trees it would take to make Mosaic the right place for these fields,” he said.

Clements did, however, support the continued use of the Mosaic field area until the refurbishment of the Mary Holland Park was accomplished.

To rebuild the fields will take about seven-and-one-half months, with design eating up 60 days, processing a bid for the work another 60 days and the actual construction taking about 90 days.

Vorassi's plan will provide standard playing field sizes, where the Mosaic practice fields may be sub-standard fields — okay for practice, but unsuited for league play.

It also provides 241 parking places adjacent to the fields. The Mary Holland Park fields are already lighted.

The $700,000 will probably come from the city's reserve accounts, since it was not funded in this year's budget, explained City Manager George Long, adding that it would require a budget transfer to accomplish.

The budget transfer is expected to be on the commission's agenda for its next meeting.

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