CLEARWATER — The Greenwood Panthers haven't scheduled a true home football game in three years.
Their turf at Phillip Jones Park closed when city officials determined the field sat on top of an old dump site filled with ash.
That's not hazardous, the city says, but the state has procedures for properly capping the site.
"It's not anything that's going to environmentally kill you," said Ed Chesney, environmental manager for the city of Clearwater, "but you don't want to be playing on it."
The city recently approved setting aside $822,000 to top the site with 2 feet of clean sand and renovate the park. The project requires collaboration with the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Southwest Florida Water Management District, with a targeted completion in time for next year's football season.
The history of Phillip Jones Park dates back more than a half-century, Chesney said. It sat next to a solid waste treatment plant. During the 1940s and 1950s, the once low-lying area along a creek was filled with ash, likely from a nearby incinerator, to make it usable land.
"It was done all over the state, all over the country," Chesney said.
Because records don't exist, the city doesn't really know who filled the land or what went into it. In that time, though, Chesney said, burned trash consisted mostly of paper and wood. It wasn't until later that plastics started appearing more and sometimes broke down into harmful byproducts.
"If there's a silver lining," Chesney said, "it's that the ash was old ash, not newer ash."
Pinellas County Schools owned the land at 1190 Russell St. and gave it to the city in 1949, Chesney said. It became a park, and for decades children played football there.
Ten years ago, the city followed up on community rumors and started investigating the soil under the field. Officials found bits of glass and tile and eventually realized the field appeared to be an old ash-filled site. Two years ago, the city voluntarily closed the field as a precautionary measure, Chesney said.
The city tested for contaminants and gases, finding some metals in the ground but no gases: "Nothing hazardous that would raise real concerns," he said. "Nobody has been hurt or made any claims against the field."
State guidelines call for the city to "seal" the site. Instead of digging up all the ash, the city plans to use a cheaper option of adding clean fill above it.
Parks are a common way to reuse former landfill sites, Chesney said, citing the Joe DiMaggio Sports Complex on Drew Street — formerly a garbage dump — as a similar case.
The youth football and cheerleading program that practiced at Phillip Jones hasn't experienced any safety or health issues with the field, said Greenwood Panthers president Joe Marshall.
But its closure has forced the Panthers to scramble for places to practice. They can't host games, which has caused some problems during playoffs, Marshall said.
"It's definitely an inconvenience," he said.
Stephanie Wang can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or [email protected]