The ball diamonds at the McCulley-Robertson Recreation Park are an oft-used municipal facility, but they are showing their age.
The diamonds were built more than 30 years ago and have seen an upsurge in use in recent years. The Town hosted a public meeting in June of 2017 to gather input from the facility’s users and community groups regarding their needs and wants at the site. (Read that story on Doppler here: Ball diamonds at McCulley-Roberston need TLC and expansion to accommodate growing number of players.)
Town staff presented a report at the July General Committee meeting to outline a design with recommended upgrades based on the public feedback received.
“I believe (the facility) has served our community very well and it’s time that we need to do some reinvestment there to keep it going,” said Colleen MacDonald, the Town’s Manager of Parks and Cemeteries.
Committee members appeared to agree with her.
“The place looks like we don’t care about it. That’s no disparaging remark about staff, they do the best they can with the resources that we give them,” said Mayor Scott Aitchison. “There were things about the diamonds that actually seemed a little dangerous to me, and it’s a liability issue as well. As we go touring around all of these different facilities it becomes more and more apparent to me that over the last several years the municipality has worked hard to add new facilities and build new things and add to our community, in some ways it seems to the neglect of existing facilities like the lookout, like the ball diamonds. Some of these things we need to take a little more care of.”
As an avid ball player in my younger years on those diamonds, they used to be the Taj Mahal of ball diamonds in all of Muskoka. As the mayor stated, they really deteriorated over the years…I think we need to make them the best ball diamonds again in Muskoka.
Councillor Dan Armour
MacDonald reviewed the state of the existing diamonds and noted that a major reconfiguration of the site wasn’t feasible both in terms of restrictions in the area—it is bounded by Highway 11 on side and a natural gas line on another—and timing to ensure that the baseball season is minimally impacted. That means that the redevelopment area would be restricted to the current four diamonds (three softball and one hardball).
Some of the user concerns have been addressed in the new design, said MacDonald, including higher backstop fencing and a clay sub-base for the home plate and pitchers’ mound areas.
The existing backstops on diamonds A, B and C are 12-feet tall with some sections up to 20-feet tall or with netting to catch foul balls. The proposed backstops on diamonds A, B and C are 30-feet tall; on diamond F, the hardball diamond, a 40-foot tall backstop is proposed.
Although staff are not recommending the full-clay infields requested by users due to drainage concerns, they have identified another solution: a customized infield mix with a clay sub-base at home plate and the pitchers’ mound.
The recommendations in the staff report did not include warning tracks—a strip of different material closest to the fence that is designed to warn players focused on catching a ball that they are in close proximity to the fence—for all four diamonds, but Mayor Scott Aitchison said he’d like to see one at least included on diamond F, a suggestion that his fellow committee members supported.
The new design would also see improved drainage and an irrigation system added to the diamonds to help establish the new sod that would be installed during the project and to maintain the health of the turf during hot, dry periods.
Councillor Jonathan Wiebe applauded the proposed irrigation and wondered about the possibility of capturing and storing rain water to use for that purpose.
“We will be talking about capturing some water for reuse,” said MacDonald, adding that they planned to look at a number of options. “We even talked about drilling one well or two wells, and potentially talking to Kimberley-Clark about whether we can capture some of their waste water. That will require a holding tank, some pressure pumps, that kind of thing but we are eager to look into some of those things to see if they are plausible, we’re just not quite there yet.”
Finally, the aging lights at the diamonds need to be replaced which will come at a significant cost. The wooden poles need to be replaced with a more durable material, and staff considered both HID (high-intensity discharge) lighting, which is what is used at the diamonds now, and a more expensive LED option.
“The lighting system is one of our biggest concerns out there because of its age and condition,” said MacDonald. “Our aim is to rebuild this facility so that the community has it to enjoy…for the next 30 years.” She added that there were many good reasons to choose an LED system, but that it would be significantly more expensive.
Deputy Mayor Karin Terziano worried that, despite their lower cost, new HID lights might need to be replaced sooner than LED lights would. “If we are building a park for 30 years or more, are we looking at lights we have to replace in 10 years? That’s my biggest concern.”
Steve Hernen, Director of Operations and Protective Services, said that he had a hard time stomaching the additional $450,000 cost of LED lights. “LED is likely the right way to go socially because it reduces energy costs…but in all honesty when I looked at our strategic plan and fiscal responsibilities and I hear the pressures we are under for budget, myself as a director I couldn’t authorize that.” He added that it was a possibility that if new HIDs are installed, they may need to be replaced 10 or 15 years in the future.
User groups also requested the installation of lights in the parking lots and possible expansion of the parking lots, items that were not addressed in the report which was focused on redevelopment of the baseball diamonds only.
The cost of the staff recommendations for the project totals $2,222,575, including the addition of a warning track for diamond F. (See the proposed design and cost breakdown here.)
Councillor Bob Stone said he was uncomfortable with the overall price tag and wondered if the work could be done over 10 years or if just the most important items could be completed in 2019.
“We have considered many different ways to piece it out,” replied MacDonald. “The amount of site destruction that will happen there, it makes sense to do it all at once. But also from a financial point of view, I believe we’ll get efficiencies by doing it all at once as well with one contractor.”
Terziano wanted to know how the project would be funded.
Hernen replied that there is a combined total of about $1.5 million in two parks funds available, but reminded committee that staff were at the meeting to ask only for approval to add the recommended items in order to complete a tender package. “Then council will still have a discussion about this at budget time and how it’s going to get funded. If it makes it through the capital budget, then we would issue the tender come January or February.”
If approved for the 2019 budget, the project would begin after Labour Day in 2019 and be completed prior to the Victoria Day weekend in 2020.
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