City ball fields get ‘light lift’
He said let their be lights and there were. Without costing $100,000, the same thing happened for Baldwin City's ball fields after an agreement reached between the city council, Baldwin School District and Baldwin City Recreation Commission.
Cost of the much-needed improvements was roughly $11,000, instead of the six-figure total that Monte Ezell, recreation commission director, told the council several weeks ago it could be. Since that time, representatives of all three entities -- including City Utility Director Terry McKinney -- have met several times and came up with a plan that has resulted in new lights being installed at the ball fields north of Baldwin high school and junior high.
"I opened up a can of worms," Ezell said to council members at Monday's meeting. "It's not going to cost us $40 million to put up lights. Terry tells me it'll be about $10,000.
"I'm telling Terry 'thank you' for proving me wrong," he said.
The lighting problems were evident this year when baseball and softball practices and games began. Ezell told the council he'd been "jumped on" pretty hard by the Baldwin High athletic director about the lights. The problem was, changing light bulbs wasn't working anymore. New lights were needed and Ezell went about getting bids for what that would take.
Compounding the problem was the continuing "threat" that the ball field area -- owned by the school district -- would be gone someday when additions to the school complex had to be made. The call for new ball fields has been made for years and little has been done to improve the area because of that.
But, the three sides of the complex issue came together for a lighting plan and there is real hope that the school district, rec commission and city can make the new ball fields -- to be located south of the Baldwin Elementary School Intermediate Center -- happen soon.
"I felt that although this seems like a small thing (the lights), the meetings were a good first step toward getting this accomplished (new ball fields)," said Council Member Amy Cleavinger. "If we all work together, we can make this happen.
"They have incurred some expenses already as far as engineering, tree removal and excavation," Cleavinger said. "I realize that they are in a tough situation with their budget, but I feel that the school district is committed to working with us on this project."
As for the lighting project, it started out "pricey," she said, but McKinney was able to get someone else to look at it and came up with another plan. It puts 22 new lights at the Babe Ruth Field, 17 at the north ball field and 16 at the east ball field at a cost of $2,365. It also includes 16 1,500-watt floodlights and 16 1,500-watt lamps in the area at a cost of $4,176 for a total of $6,541. The school district and recreation commission agreed to share that cost for $3,270.50 each.
The city's contribution is labor, two 65-foot utility poles and wire and brackets at a cost of $4,780. The work began Monday and shows even more cooperation with the City of Ottawa loaning its new cherry picker truck to do the work, which was too tall for Baldwin's truck.
"It's a mutual aid thing," McKinney said of the use of Ottawa's truck. "We went down and helped them in 2002 (after a storm) and we hadn't called that favor in. When they got this truck in January, we thought this would be the time."
The council approved the plan, but there was some discussion of what budget it should come out of. Council member Ted Brecheisen Jr., a member of the utility committee, didn't think it should come out of the utility budget.
"The community benefit of this project is huge," said Council member Tony Brown. "This is a good investment of utility funds."