PLANT CITY — The city is halfway to completing six new soccer fields at Ellis-Methvin Park now that drainage work is almost finished.
The project was begun last year after Hillsborough Community College said it wanted to add classrooms and a parking lot to its Plant City campus on land the city now uses for youth soccer. At first, officials were eager to get started. Now, it seems they can take as long as necessary.
HCC spokeswoman Ashley Carl said the school's expansion has been pushed back to 2020 as a result of the weak economy.
Diminished tax revenue from utilities the past few years has left the state's school construction fund, known as PECO, less flush than usual. Also, a dozen other HCC projects now take priority over the Plant City work, she said.
Initially, officials thought they had a five- to seven-year window when HCC unveiled its expansion proposal to them in 2008.
Regardless of the school's changing timetable, City Manager Greg Horwedel said the city is pushing forward with the new fields.
"Technically the land is owned by HCC and when they informed us they would have a future expansion we needed to look ahead," he said. "Now seemed like a good time."
Work was begun last fall when the city used a $600,000 county grant to tackle the site's drainage after years as a citrus grove under the Ellis family. After analyzing the soil's composition, engineers opted to build a storm-water system with 12 inlets. That work ended in March.
The next phase, set to start this summer, will involve a lattice of underground pipes to tie into the drainage system. Then workers will add irrigation, 6 inches of top soil and sod.
Officials bid out the irrigation, top soil and sod work last week. City workers will install the underground pipes themselves.
Officials hope to have the fields ready for tournament play by December. The season runs from late March through early June; practices start in mid March.
Youth soccer is second only to Little League baseball in popularity. About 1,200 youths are involved in the city's soccer program, compared to 1,700 in Little League, according to recreation director Jack Holland.
"Soccer's been growing in popularity since the 1970s," he said.
While officials expect the fields to be ready in time for practice, it could be years before work at Ellis-Methvin is finished.
In addition to the six regulation-size fields planned there, officials expect to add stadium lighting, an expanded parking area, restrooms, equipment storage and a concession stand sometime in the future. Aluminum bleachers and fencing would come later. Two junior fields, or practice fields, are already in place.
"The parking is designed for about 450 additional spaces," city engineer Brett Gocka said. "The parking would run along Cherry Street and south along the west side of the property and along the property's south side, so essentially the six soccer fields will have parking along three sides."
A sidewalk surrounding the fields is planned as well.
Officials said the extent and timing of the improvements could depend on whether the city wins county grants. The lighting alone is estimated at $1 million, though officials are studying ways to trim that cost and say it could be a year or longer before they tackle the work.
Until then, recreation officials might turn to the fields at HCC, called the Otis M. Andrews Sports Complex, for at least some games. Unlike at Ellis-Methvin, the fields there are lighted.
Rich Shopes can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2454.