Sudley Park, the controversial park off Route 234 in Sudley Springs, could be completed by the fall of 2006, said E. Jay Ellington, executive director of the Prince William County Park Authority.
The park, which will feature 11 playing fields, has been the subject of political infighting, an investigation into allegations of conflicts of interest, an audit and accusations that contaminated dirt was hauled onto the site. The troubles began in 1999, when the county bought land for the park from a campaign contributor to Edgar S. Wilbourn III, the supervisor representing Gainesville at the time.
Later, Wilbourn was investigated in conflict of interest allegations after his employer, excavation firm Anderson Co., began building the fields in 2002 without a contract. Also, R.B. Thomas Jr., a Park Authority board member and avid softball player, was serving as manager of the park project.
Last year, an audit found no wrongdoing. The dirt, hauled onto the site by Anderson, was clean, and conflict of interest allegations were dismissed. But the park was in limbo.
The Park Authority is trying to start where things left off, Ellington said.
Ellington began his job as director of the authority in May 2004 and soon took over as project manager of the incomplete Sudley Park. The authority had to create a site plan and get approval from the county government, he said. "We have what we call an approved set of plans," he said.
The $2 million-plus project will be completed with funds from the Park Authority, the Virginia Department of Transportation and proffered in-kind services from Toll Brothers developers, Ellington said.
The park will have five diamond-shaped fields and six rectangular-shaped fields, he said. Although the project originally was to have more softball fields, the Park Authority is now referring to the fields as "multipurpose," Ellington said.
Thomas said that he hopes the long-delayed project will be completed and that he did not mind stepping aside when Ellington took over as project manager. "I was glad to see someone else take it over," he said. "It was very time-consuming. I was on that site every day for two years."
He said his company, Thomas Engineering, donated about $400,000 in in-kind services, including management and design. "I was somewhat controversial because I was on the board and serving as project manager," he said.
Thomas said his business and others donated time and services to deliver the fields earlier. "It seemed like a noble cause, and I still think it was," he said. "My involvement was truly based on giving a park facility to Prince William County. I hope to someday see it completed."
Wilbourn said he also was glad the park project was being revived. All of the controversy, which led to delays, "probably wasted $500,000 in taxpayer dollars," he said, noting that the abandoned land must be cleared again.
"I was disappointed that it became political," he said.
Anderson Co., which was accused of dumping contaminated dirt at the site, remains interested in the project and plans to submit a bid when the Park Authority requests applications from contractors. "We will bid really low," he said. "Our company is looking to really help with this."
The company sees the project as a corporate and civic duty, and he sees it as a personal commitment, Wilbourn said.
Wilbourn said he originally wanted the park to be "a place where we can honor the children who have died of diseases and accidents early."
Wilbourn's 16-year-old daughter died in a car accident on Route 234 in 1993. "It's something you really understand once it happens to you. You want a place where you can contribute to scholarships or youth activities," Wilbourn said.
Wilbourn, who lost a reelection bid in 2003, said he hopes there is no outcry this time around. "I'm out of politics, so there shouldn't be any controversy," he said.