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School superintendent says Palmetto ballfields will be built

MANATEE — The heads of three government entities working to construct ball fields in Palmetto met Friday.

“We get together on a regular basis,” said Manatee County School District Superintendent Tim McGonagal. “Today we focused on the time line and when we’ll have the grants.”

McGonagal, Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker and Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant have been holding the quarterly meetings since the school board purchased city property on 10th Street West in Palmetto for a new elementary school.

The land purchase displaced several ball fields where the North Manatee American Little League played its games.

In a complex deal made up of land swaps and money exchanges between the school board, the city and Manatee Fruit Farms, new fields are planned to be built on a tract of land next to county-owned Blackstone Park.

“We’re going to get those ball fields built,” McGonagal said.

On Monday, the Palmetto City Commission questioned the school board’s commitment to the completion of the project.

Several commissioners said they entered into the process of finding land for a new Palmetto Elementary School because it was for the benefit of the community.

But at the same time they said the city was carrying the whole burden of getting the ball fields constructed.

McGonagal said he was working with the mayor and county administrator to find the money to complete the project.

As far as meeting its commitments, he said the school board has fulfilled all its obligations under the property purchase agreement,

Bryant and Hunzeker could not be reached for comment Friday evening.

The city sold the property on 10th Avenue West to the school district for about $1 million, which it plans to use for the ball field construction.

But the higher cost of a ball field complex larger than originally planned, and the cost of realigning 23rd Avenue West to create a larger parcel, plus attorney fees have eaten away at the proceeds.

McGonagal was confident the ball fields will be completed.

“The project turned into something larger than projected,” he said, “But we will have construction costs in 45 days, and that’s around the time when we’ll know about the grants.”

Three grants are being sought to help pay for the higher costs, one from the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, one from the Tampa Bay Rays and one from the federal government.