Council moves closer to decision on LL Ball Fields
By Craig Howard
With discussion about the Liberty Lake Ball Fields moving into the late innings, City Administrator Katy Allen has stepped up to make a call to the budgetary bullpen.
Allen delivered her best pitch on the much-anticipated project at Tuesday night's City Council meeting, presenting a trio of options for the build-out of 20 acres purchased from the Central Valley School District last year. Each of the three scenarios would require more than the $500,000 set aside by the council in the 2013 budget.
"When we allocated $500,000 in the budget, there was still a question of what we were going to build," said Allen at the beginning of her presentation on May 21.
Allen proceeded to talk about the "Cadillac" version of the project – a sports megaplex featuring four baseball diamonds with infields of synthetic turf, a soccer field, playground area, fencing, 200 parking spaces and a pair of trails on the east side and west side of the site. Original estimates had the cost of the completed work coming in at around $4 million, though Allen said a revised rendition of the project would be closer to $2.5 million.
Allen and City Engineer Andrew Staples have been working with a committee throughout the year, hammering out a vision for the development. Representatives from the group have toured the Dwight Merkel Complex in north Spokane as well as the Whitworth University sports fields.
"We've learned that there is a big difference between playing in a park and playing in a sports complex," Allen said.
With the timeline narrowing for a start on the grounds this year, Allen recommended that council make a decision on a direction at its June 4 meeting. In concentrating on the eastern portion of the acreage, she said one option would be to build one baseball field with synthetic turf and add 88 parking places at a cost of $610,000. The same concept with a dirt infield would run $521,000.
Option B consists of two baseball diamonds and the same 88 parking stalls. The synthetic turf version of that plan has a price tag of $1.11 million while the soil rendition would set the city back $800,000.
Finally, Option C would involve grading and planting grass on the acreage, essentially creating one sprawling field similar to areas now seen in Pavillion Park and Rocky Hill Park. The nondescript transformation – which would also include an irrigation system and parking – has been priced at $735,000.
Council Member Keith Kopelson was one of several representatives on the governing board to express sticker shock over the proposed incarnations of the land.
"It would be nice to have this kind of ball field, but I'm not sure we want to dedicate this type of money toward it," Kopelson said. "In the beginning, we were talking about a lot less money."
Council Member Josh Beckett was one of several at the dais to voice support for Option B without the artificial infield, emphasizing that the proposed addition of four baseball diamonds in the grand scheme would create "a predominantly baseball structure." Beckett stressed that sports like soccer and lacrosse deserved equal consideration.
"To develop this into four baseball fields doesn't make sense," he said. "It needs to be more multi-use."
As for municipal funds that may be available to cover the extra cost of the ball fields beyond the $500,000, Finance Director R.J. Stevenson told council that the only realistic source would be the city's ending fund balance of $2.5 million – an idea that didn't sit well with Mayor Pro Tem Odin Langford.
"We have other things going on besides this," Langford said. "I'm for it, but I don't support dipping into those funds."
Council Member Cris Kaminskas speculated that the city might be able to defray some of the costs through corporate sponsorships and advertising. There has also been talk of the Central Valley School District pitching in to cover some of the costs for the parking lot.
"I know price is going to be a consideration," said Allen. "I'm not asking for a vote tonight, but I'm hoping we can decide something by the June 4 council meeting. We can't go any further without that."
Allen said after the meeting that she would be working on a resolution that presented all three options in delineated form for a vote on June 4. Council also agreed to discuss approaches to the western half of the acreage at its upcoming council retreat.
In other city news:
· Allen provided an update on the Harvard Road roundabout project, saying bids for construction will go out on June 20 with work expected to start in late July. The roundabout should be completed sometime in mid-October. In a related piece of news, the city has only received three submissions for the public art feature slated to be part of the roundabout. Allen said the lack of interest has meant extending the request for proposals to June 26.
· Council unanimously authorized city staff to secure a contract with a company called SiteLines to install nine pieces of equipment for the Fallen Heroes Circuit Course in Rocky Hill Park. The site, honoring military veterans, will be assembled in July.
· Council unanimously confirmed Mayor Steve Peterson's appointment of Carol Johns to the Liberty Lake Municipal Library Board.
· The Library Board of Trustees presented their 2012 report, noting that visits were up 10 percent over the past year and over half of all Liberty Lake residents now have library cards. Attendance for the library's growing list of programs has gone up every year, as well. The board also provided a report on the recently completed mosaic project comprised of tiles that were part of a fundraiser for the renovated library entrance.
· Council Member Shane Brickner gave a summary of the Finance Committee's discussions, noting that the city has already spent 95 percent of its snow and ice removal budget for 2013.
· Peterson reported that Liberty Lake now has an official seat at the Spokane Regional Transportation Council joining Airway Heights and Cheney as the newest individual members. In the past, jurisdictions with lesser populations were part of a coalition represented by a single appointed representative.
· The city has received $3,000 in revenue since the start of the year as the result of a new reservation fee for recreational facilities, Allen said. Nonprofit organizations are not charged for use of parks and other city-owned property through the system.