By Gary Welty
As the city of Lee’s Summit, Mo. grew over the years, the youth-sports associations and the parks and recreation department have kept pace. As a result, more than 15,000 youth athletes are now playing softball, baseball, football, soccer, lacrosse, volleyball, and basketball, with all of the teams in need of game and practice areas. Finding, funding, acquiring, and developing game facilities solves only half the problem. The other half of the problem is doing the same for practice facilities. This is a tough balancing act as four different associations operate in partnership with the parks department.
To add to the challenge, in 2011 the local school district determined it would no longer continue with a 20-plus-year reciprocal agreement for the use of facilities and grounds. The justification was based on economic issues within the district that created a need to produce revenue from the facilities. This further exacerbated the problem by eliminating a vast resource for low- or no-cost facilities for game and practice space.
The issue of game space was dealt with by careful planning of athletic programs and allocation of available space within the park system, but the financial burden and lack of practice space were still significant problems. In having associations determine the need for current and future practice space, a plan was developed to maximize the use of their limited open space to meet these challenges. The football and soccer associations needed open turf space for practices while the baseball and softball associations needed infield practice, batting cages, and outfield practice areas. The associations agreed to share in the development expense for these new facilities.
Divvying Up Space
How was the limited space maximized? By their very nature, sports like soccer, football, and lacrosse require open space. To meet this demand, approximately 15 acres was graded and seeded for turf development as a multi-sport practice area. However, the baseball and softball organizations needed infields, backstop fencing, and large parcels of space to serve a small number of participants at a time. To meet this need, a plan was developed to use an area originally designated for game fields. Eight infield practice areas were constructed, eight batting cages were built, and a large open area consisting of approximately 3 acres for outfield practice was graded and seeded. This configuration allows for 18 teams, instead of the traditional plan of only four, to rotate through the practice area at any given time. By allowing 2-hour practices, the area could be turned over two times per day and two practices per team, Monday through Saturday. This small area is able to address the needs of 72 teams a season.
Digging In The Dirt
Construction was initiated in late summer 2011 with initial grading and seeding of the 15 acres of turf open space for soccer, football, and lacrosse. Initial grading and seeding of this space was completed in late fall 2011with continuing turf development through summer 2013. Once the initial work was completed, work on the baseball and softball fields began. Construction of these areas continued as staff was available through 2012, and was completed with the installation of the batting cages in April 2013.
Simultaneously, the turf in the outfield practice area for baseball/softball was being developed. Turf development without the benefit of irrigation is a long process and extended the time from initial construction of these facilities to the time they were playable.
With the exception of initial grading by the contract site-grading company, all of the work, including fencing, concrete work, infield construction, outfield seeding, and irrigation, was completed by parks and recreation staff. The practice-space development was funded through park funds. Expenses for the development of the open space was $70,571, and baseball practice area $161,087, for a total of $231,658. The associations participated in paying for the cost of these improvements over 5 years.
With the completion of the areas in April 2013, the project has been well-received and heavily utilized by the baseball and softball associations. The turf for the soccer practice area has been established to the point that the association began using it for its fall league practices. At some point, additional grading or top filling/dressing of the soccer area will be done to enhance the playability of these open spaces.
With any growing community there will always be an increasing need for facilities and open space. The areas developed in Lee’s Summit have moved the parks department a long way toward meeting the needs of the youth-sports associations. Partnering with them to pay for these improvements has made these developments possible and at the same time reduced or eliminated their dependence on school district facilities. With all that has happened and with the cooperation of all concerned parties, the project has been both worthwhile and successful.
Gary Welty is the Superintendent of Park Construction for the Lee’s Summit Parks & Recreation Department in Missouri. Reach him at (816) 969-1532, or firstname.lastname@example.org.