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Softball field fixes may soon be on deck

Jessica Weston
Ridgecrest Daily Independent
Burroughs High School plays a softball game at one of the local fields in 2019.

Look for softball field improvements at Leroy Jackson Park if the city receives some $107,000 in Community Development Block Grant Funds, according to a decision by the Ridgecrest City Council Jan. 20.

The allotment for fiscal year 2021-2022 is not a done deal, according to City Clerk Ricca Charlon. Rather it is an anticipated amount the city hopes to receive.

It's "not set in stone," Charlon said. "This is what we hope to get."

If received the $107,000 will be combined with $178,000 in Per Capita grant funds for a total of $285,000 to be used to improve two lower softball fields at Leroy Jackson Park.

The city council voted unanimously to choose the softball field improvements as the CDBG project after a public hearing at the meeting. All five council members were in attendance, with Vice Mayor Solomon Rajaratnam participating by phone.

The Per Capita grant was already awarded, according to city staff.

The project was presented by Charlon and Interim Parks and Rec Director Nerissa Wegener and officially recommended by staff.

An infield upgrade would include leveling the infield, adding new clay dirt mixture and edging the infield. Covered dugouts and covered spectator seating would also be added, according to Interim Parks and Rec Director Nerissa Wegener.

An initial project estimate from a local contractor is $142,500 per field – including labor and materials as a prevailing wage project. The total project cost would be $285,000.

Staff is researching the possibility of using a pre-negotiated purchasing contract for the project, similar to those used for the splash pad, park equipment and Freedom Park restrooms, Wegener said.

Wegener presented the softball field improvements as the staff's recommended project prior to public comment.

The public was not allowed to attend the meeting in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so comments were taken by phone. Two people called in with suggestions.

Mike Stafford from IWV Youth Football called in and recommended that whatever sort of project is undertaken with fields and grass includes some sort of windbreak.

"That’s what’s really destroying these fields is our wind," Stafford said. "It’s blowing our water away, it’s blowing our seed away."

Dave Matthews also called in and mentioned what he called a "problem with the lights in the field," saying that they are a long-standing safety hazard to people on nearby streets.

Council Member Michael Mower weighed in with the suggestion that the shade structures be made of something permanent.

"The winds can be very erratic and I think we’re best off spending on metal rather than cloth." Mower said. "Other than that I am in favor of the project."

Blades suggested the soccer fields be improved as well, after Wegener said that they see about the same amount of use as the softball fields.

Wegener said that cost and budget are limiting factors on how to spend the CDBG funds if received. City Manager Ron Strand added that future CDBG funds could possibly be used to upgrade other parts of that sports complex.

"From the staff’s perspective we would like to be much more aggressive in improving and enhancing our park facilities. I think it's very important," Strand said. He added he hopes to be able to speed up the improvement process in the future.

"I think that once again anything that improves the quality of life for our youth is a good thing," Mayor Eric Bruen said.

Bruen commented on the public suggestions which were not incorporated into the project.

"The public has brought in other ideas to look at," Bruen said.

"It certainly sounds like our parks and rec department can use lots of revenue support and I certainly hope that we can find a revenue solution that can work towards all of the goals that we’ve talked about today," Bruen added, possibly hinting at the tax idea that he has discussed in public lately.

CDBG grants require that projects be in a disadvantaged area and Leroy Jackson Park fits the bill, according to Charlon. The only other area that meets the requirement would be the Freedom Park/Pinney Pool area, she said.

Other eligible types of project could have included public facility rehabilitation/ADA improvements; public facility improvements; water/sewer improvements; street/drainage improvements and architectural barriers, according to Charlon.