The Windermere Preparatory School multi-use fields are finally under renovation — as well as the track.
“The initial idea of the field, and the upgrade and the renovation of the field, probably started about two years ago,” Windermere Prep Director of Operations Steven Shehan said. “As the programs have continued to grow, we have such a limited space and the constant usage of the field would wear it out (as well as) trying to maintain it. So, putting in an artificial turf field allows us to have so many more practices, sessions and activities out there.”
Once plans were made, the Lakers had to wait six months for the approval from Orange County to move forward with the project.
“We are going to put in a new track also around it so that now we are training where we call it the main field,” Shehan said. “We are going to become a stadium, and we are going to be able to showcase all our events, all our sports in the fall, winter and spring out there.”
The rubberized track around the athletic fields probably has been one of the most expected and requested facilities for the school in recent years.
“We’ve waited quite a long time for this facelift that our facilities definitely needs,” head track and field coach Devin Bennett said. “We are one of the only teams that doesn’t have a regular facility, and, in spite of that, we’ve been able to qualify people to the state championships during the years that I’ve been coaching. So, it really is encouraging that now that we are finally receiving the proper facility, that we expect a lot more improvements in our team. It’s an exciting time for the kids and for the community and for the parents and coaches, as well.”
Before renovation started, Windermere Prep student-athletes who play football, lacrosse or soccer had been training on the same multi-use fields for more than 20 years.
“It basically didn’t drain well, and so it got torn up very easily,” Shehan said. “The middle of the field would become torn up, and then, once it got torn up, it’d be difficult to play, then you got into soccer season and you needed a leveled surface. Then, there’d be potentials of injuries and things like that because the middle just got big divot cuts in it.”
However, these new fields will provide student-athletes with an even playing surface that won’t be a liability.
“I think one of the main benefits will be being able to have a suface that can withstand rain and will be a viable practice facility for us,” head football coach Brian Simmons said. “The track is just as important as the football field, (because it will give) the athletes a good surface to run on.
“You’ll have more kids willing to run in (physical education) class, if you’re not running on concrete,” Bennett said. “(It) will probably reduce the number of injuries, I’m sure. It (also) will make it a safer environment because you have a surface that has traction, that is softer, so you don’t have to worry about kids playing lacrosse, American football, soccer falling on the track. It just makes it a more professional environment for athletes.”
However, despite having renovated fields and a new track, the Lakers won’t be able to host any track competitions or football games until lights are installed on the facility.
“Without lights, we don’t have the time to do it,” Athletic Director Pat Hollern said. “We don’t have that type of facility to handle, so this is more so of just a practice-preparation type (field and) track.”
The school received the official approval of the project in September 2022, and it took until June for it to get all permits and plans done so construction could break ground. The base work of the fields will take about six weeks, so by the end of July, the installation of the turf will take place. The track will be the last item added to the renovation, as well as two beach volleyball courts that will be located on the back of the fields.
“We are also putting in pavers around to the visitor side,” Shehan said. “We are putting a fence around he stadium field, we are having a walkway.”
This is not the only renovation Windermere Prep currently is having completed on campus. The weight room recently was expanded, the gym floor — basketball court — was redone, as well as the training room, and the lower school playground was renovated.
According to a State of the School announcement, the Lower School playground is “a much-needed and highly anticipated upgrade for (the) youngest Lakers. The two courtyards on the interior of each of the lower school neighborhoods will be resurfaced and repurposed with turf for alternative play a real as well. This offers age-appropriate play space for each individual grade level.”
The renovation of the multi-purpose fields, the track and the playground is estimated to reach completion at the beginning of August, before school starts.
Staff writer Andrea Mujica covers sports, news and features. She holds both a bachelor's degree in journalism and an MBA from the University of Central Florida. When she’s not on the sidelines, you can find Andrea coaching rowers at the Orlando Area Rowing Society in Windermere.