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County plans to shed light on its parks

For residents who want to use Hernando County's parks at night, brighter days are coming.

By October, Veterans Memorial Park will be the first of four county parks to feature lights on its playing fields. Delta Woods, Ernie Wever and Kennedy parks will follow with lights within a month of Veterans.

"We've been waiting a long time, so it's going to be great," said Rick Colon, a coach for First Hernando Youth Soccer, a competitive and recreational league with 500 children.

But some homeowners who live around Veterans Memorial Park, the most residentially situated park, don't think lights are such a bright idea.

"We've lost all the peace and quiet," said John Intrieri, whose home on Bonview Lane faces Veterans' fields. "It's turned into hooting and hollering, and to add the lights is going to add to it."

Pat Fagan, the county's community services director, says lighting the sports fields will do more for Hernando's parks system than extend play time to 10:30 p.m. each night. Fagan said he is hoping installing lights will postpone the inevitable: new park construction.

The county is short on fields.

Colon's soccer league, for example, has been forced to rent fields from the YMCA because there's not enough space at Veterans for all the children who want to play. And the West Hernando Little League played its games in Pasco County this season.

"Lighting will help alleviate some of the problems," Fagan said, "but we're still under the amount of fields we need."

The lighting project was in jeopardy earlier this year because of the county's anticipated $5.4-million budget shortfall for 1995-96. Two weeks ago, however, county commissioners awarded a $360,540 contract to M. Gay Constructors Inc. of Jacksonville. M. Gay has installed lights for parks in Orlando, Inverness and the University of Florida.

One of the hot issues commissioners considered a few months ago when they discussed advertising for bids was the electric bill, which was estimated to be $50,000 a year. It was decided that the county's youth and senior athletic leagues would be charged $8 to $10 an hour for the lights, because they are the main users.

Also, the county will pay its share of the electric bill when it sponsors evening recreational activities.

For Colon, the First Hernando soccer coach, paying the electric bill is okay with his league. Colon does not anticipate an increase in the league's registration fees.

"You've got a lot of young parents who are commuting and working some distance away," said Colon, who lives in Spring Hill. "Adding the lights will give us more people who can volunteer to coach and spend time with the kids."

In about two and a half months the lighting job will begin at Veterans. Then the other parks will follow, one by one.

The process is not as easy as erecting a few poles with bulbs, according to Michael Gay of M. Gay Constructors. Before anything, the company must pray for dry weather because rain would delay the first task of laying underground wires.

Once the cable is laid, cranes will erect 50-to-80-foot-high concrete poles at the park sites, and workers will attach the lamp fixtures. The number of lamps and poles will vary for each park. Each lamp is 1,500 watts _ 15 times the power of a 100-watt light bulb, Gay said.

Veterans park, on Spring Hill Drive between Glenridge Drive and Fentress Court, will have 13 poles with 106 lamps; Delta Woods, which already has lights, will get an additional 18 poles and 76 lamps.

It's the intensity of the lights that bothers residents such as Vincent and Filomina Citro, whose home is within inches of the park. They purchased their lot and built their home on Bonview Lane before Veterans park was developed, they said.

"The games will play late at night and disturb everything," said Mrs. Citro. "The people who want the lights don't live here. They bring their kids to the park, then go home."

Fagan, the county's community services director, said he has fielded about a half-dozen complaints from residents near Veterans. That's why the county paid an additional $16,830 to install reflectors on lamps at Veterans and Delta Woods parks, he said.

"This eliminates the light spill into these yards and these houses to very, very minimal amounts," said Gay, the contractor.

Judy McCloskey, whose Bonview Lane home is at the rear of Veterans, said she's not bothered by the idea of teams playing until 10:30 p.m.

"It's not Yankee Stadium," she said.

Despite the complaints, residents cannot stop the project.

"It's a done deal," said Fagan, who anticipates more complaints once the lights are installed. "We will do everything we can to work with the neighbors."