If you’ve gone past Babcock Schools lately, you may have noticed additional construction behind the campus.
While the schools will use the complex being built there, the new facility will benefit everyone.
The new William and Mary Ann Smith Sports Complex is a 23-acre regional park and outdoor sports facility that will be open to the entire community.
The sports complex will offer softball, baseball and multipurpose fields, a skate park, game night field, running track, expansive flex lawns, parking, restrooms and concession stand. Tying in with its outdoor recreation theme, it will also offer a trail head to the Dr. Bill Hammond Trails. The new complex is expected to open in 2024.
“It’s going to be an unbelievable facility with four different fields,” said Luke Kenzik, executive director of the Babcock Ranch Residential Association.
The BRRA team will be involved in managing and scheduling the new sports facility, just as it already does with the Field House that opened alongside Babcock High School last year.
“It’s just going to open up a number of different sports activities that we don’t have the ability to offer yet,” Kenzik said. “We’ll be able to offer T-ball, Little League, softball and flag football. We do have a soccer program right now, but we’ll be able to offer a more robust soccer program that will have a home field. And we’ll probably end up doing some sort of softball league for the adults.”
He said that with Babcock Ranch having enough children playing soccer, even without a dedicated field, the BRRA has been able to set up an internal league. He hopes to do the same with the additional community sports as they’re added.
Having a home facility for hosting the region’s traveling leagues will open the possibility of the Babcock Ranch teams playing teams from other towns in the area.
Other community activities also may take place at the new complex, such as outdoor fitness and yoga classes.
One organization that plans to make good use of the new sports complex is Babcock Schools. The schools’ use of the sports complex will resemble the arrangement it has made with the Field House.
“I work hand in hand with Lifestyle Director Aaron Pankau and the BRRA team because the schools use the facilities,” said Jeff Irwin, Babcock Schools’ director of athletics. “Aaron and I work very closely together when it comes to the Field House, coordinating schedules. That same thing will happen with the new outdoor sports facilities.”
Irwin provided input to Kitson & Partners regarding the design of the sports complex. Last summer he toured many school sports facilities around Southwest Florida to determine Babcock Schools’ needs for the new facility, based on how the schools’ athletics are projected to evolve over the next 10 to 15 years. He then submitted the recommendations as a wish list to Kitson & Partners.
“The needs of a community park and recreation department could be, and should be, a little different than the needs of a high school athletic department,” he said. “The dimensions of the fields don’t necessarily change, but the needs around those fields are different. There are certain things that go hand in hand with high school athletics, whether it’s a press box for football or scoreboards or lights for night games. These are things important to have for school athletics. So, Kitson & Partners took the input of all the key stakeholders, then made decisions that made sense for everybody, within the budget that they had to work with.”
The new complex will provide a home for existing Babcock Schools sports that currently lack dedicated facilities: flag football and track and field besides soccer.
“For our sports that lack facilities, there have been some disadvantages,” Irwin said. “It’s not easy, and it creates some hardships. It impacts what you can do when you don’t have proper practice facilities, and then we have to be on the road for every single game.”
Irwin said it will be nice for these teams to have a place to host games. The building of the new sports complex also will allow Irwin to offer new sports to Babcock Schools students starting in fall of 2024. Those plans next year tentatively include adding baseball, softball, eight-man football and boys’ soccer, all at the high school level. Also, he projects to phase in girls’ soccer, 11-man football and wrestling in 2025, 2026 and 2027, respectively.
“We’re very excited that Kitson & Partners is continuing to build up these wonderful facilities,” Irwin said. “We’re just very fortunate, I think, as a community to have them building this sports complex.”