CLEARWATER — From the “Not as Bad as it Sounds” Department:
The city of Clearwater thought it was getting a deal when it took the Tampa Rays up on an offer of free artificial turf and infield in 2018, but later determined the material from Tropicana Field would be too expensive to install.
Instead, the city will re-donate the material — some 17.5 tons of rubber and 85,000 square feet of artificial turf — to Pinellas County Schools.
To donate the material, the city council must first declare it surplus and available for donation, something the council was expected to do so at its next regular meeting.
One problem: The city is still out $15,000, which raised Clearwater Mayor George N. Cretekos’ eyebrows during the Aug. 12 City Council work session.
“We paid the Rays $15,000 for this and now we’re not able to use it and we’re donating it to the School Board?” Cretekos asked. “Why don’t we go to the Rays and ask them to give us the $15,000 back and have them donate it to the School Board?”
Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Dunbar, the mild-mannered supervisor who oversees the city’s myriad parks as well as the Philadelphia Phillies Spring Training and the Threshers baseball complex, told the mayor that the $15,000 represents what the city paid to truck the material from St. Pete to Clearwater, money that probably can’t be recouped. In his defense, Dunbar told council members he based his decisions on advice from professionals.
“At the time, the vendor we were using to give us guidance felt that (the donated turf) was something they could install,” Dunbar told the council. But after receiving requests for proposals to install the used material, “We found out we could save money by installing new turf,” Dunbar told the council.
“You’re telling me I have to hold my nose to approve this,” asked Cretekos, chuckling.
City Councilman Jay Polglaze, apparently seeking to provide cover for Dunbar, asked him how much money he saved the city by having new turf and rubber installed.
“Did the savings equal $15,000?” Polglaze asked Dunbar.
“More than that, a couple hundred thousand,” Dunbar replied.
Councilmembers expressed pleasant surprise.
“It starts getting into the way the turf is designed,” Dunbar explained. “There’s a crushed rubber that’s inside of it, and the process to remove all that is very labor intensive. That’s why it became a lot more expensive to put the (donated) turf in.”
That’s just fine with Neil Robinson, maintenance manager for Pinellas County Schools.
The school system “is interested in obtaining materials from Tropicana Field that consists of 38,000 pounds of rubber, 85,000 square feet of turf, and other miscellaneous items,” Robinson wrote the city council Aug. 7. “We are willing to pick up the donated materials provided a date and time is given.”
The artificial turf and other material will “assist us tremendously in maintaining our fields and playground areas within the district,” he wrote.