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Astros, Nationals spring training facility being built ‘in record time’

The Nationals and Astros broke ground on their new spring training facility early this fall, and are still on schedule to break it in next spring. (James Wagner/WP)
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This time next year, the Nationals and Astros will head elsewhere, not to Viera or Kissimmee, but to West Palm Beach and the new joint facility currently known as the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. According to Principal Owner Mark D. Lerner, reached by email this week for an update on his team’s new home, everything is still on schedule for an on-time opening. Challenges remain to keep it that way.

Plot twists and plan tweaks forced the Astros and Nationals to hurry. New spring training facilities do not usually emerge in a year, and the new West Palm Beach roommates couldn’t begin building theirs until early this fall, when environmental impact reports, land swaps and other logistics were approved by local governments. As of a few days ago, the 140-acre former landfill in Palm Beach County was dug up and cleared out, with beams nearby and a crane on site.

“This is a massive project that we are racing to complete in record time,” Lerner wrote. “It was originally planned as a 16 month construction schedule – which was very tight.  Ultimately, we were only given 14 months for construction making it even tighter. But we plan to be ready to play in 2017; however, the paint may still be wet and some projects may be wrapping up as the first pitch is thrown.”

Lerner said no unforeseen costs have arisen thus far, and that “so far, construction of the ballpark is going very well.” He admitted that problems outside anyone’s control — namely those posed by the weather — could create obstacles to completion. According to an article in the Palm Beach Post in January, rain slowed the construction, falling as concrete was poured for the foundation of the Nationals clubhouse.

“The one concern we can’t do anything about is the weather – hopefully, it will cooperate so we can continue to move right along,” Lerner wrote. “This project requires close cooperation between the teams, Hunt Construction, Palm Beach County and the city of West Palm Beach on a daily basis to get completed on schedule. Any delays at this point could have a severe impact on completion.

Asked what might happen if the facility is not finished on time, Lerner did not offer a contingency plan, just the caveat that nearly done  — wet paint, etc — may have to be good enough. In the meantime, he praised the design and its potential to materialize as “one of the most fan friendly in the league.”

“Every facet of the design was done with the fans in mind,” Lerner wrote. “From the location of the practice fields to the design of the bullpens and incorporating more shade over the seats – we really want our fans to come to The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and enjoy the very best spring training baseball experience.”

Nationals players are already reporting to dingy and dated Space Coast Stadium, their home for one more year — at least as things stand now. A year from now, they and the rest of the organization hope that a dug-up former dump will hold a brand new facility, weather and other unforeseen chaos permitting.