By Cheryl Blackerby
Boca Raton Beach and Park District commissioners are working on a $19.5 million budget for capital improvements that will force them to make some tough decisions this summer.
One of the toughest is explaining to Boca Raton City Council members that they won’t be getting everything they want during the next fiscal year.
Since the district and city haven’t always seen eye to eye in recent months, this may not be an easy compromise.
The most critical decision both parties must agree on soon is whether to spend millions on white sandy beaches or bright green artificial turf. The city wants the district to pay $7.5 million to build two new sports fields with the turf at the Spanish River Athletic Complex at DeHoernle Park.
But Arthur Koski, the district’s acting director, says that if the district does that, it may not have the money to cover everything else — including a $2 million bill from the city for completed beach renourishment work that the federal government declined to pick up.
“The city can’t have it both ways,” Koski said. “There just isn’t enough money to give them artificial fields and give them the $2 million.”
Koski says the solution is to use natural grass at the new Spanish River fields at an estimated cost of $5 million and a $2.5 million savings over the artificial turf.
Whether the city will go along with the change in plans is an open question.
“Once they see the numbers we have, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see we can’t accomplish everything we want to if we go with artificial turf,” said district Commissioner Robert Rollins.
The district will have no problem splitting the costs of two other beach renourishment projects with the city. The district will pay $471,500 for work done on the north beach and $1.7 million for new sand on the central beach.
Koski says he’s hopeful that common ground can be found on the Spanish River fields. “I’m cautiously optimistic that the elected officials of Boca Raton will make the best decision for all their constituents.”
Other items commissioners are considering on the budget:
• $138,900 for improvements at the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center. Commissioners also want the center to come up with a master plan for future projects.
• Paying consultants from Experis Technology Group to design a Wi-Fi and security video system for Sugar Sand Park, which will serve as the prototype for installing systems at parks throughout the district.
The amount of the consultant fees will be determined later this month.
• Setting aside money in a new reserve account to cover minor expenses for the city on an as-needed basis.