Construction to expand Milton’s Bell Memorial Park could keep it closed for a year, but the payoff would be two large rectangular fields and five baseball fields.
Recreation Director Jim Cregge said at Milton City Council workshop on Monday night that the planned fields are larger and have the flexibility to be used by multiple age groups. One of the existing fields is just 135 feet from the batter’s box to the outfield, making it suitable only for players from 4 to 6 years old.
“That program finishes up at 2 on Saturday afternoon, and sits empty because no one else can use it,” he said. Another field has the same problems.
Cregge said in the fall season, four fields are enough. “In the spring season, quite honestly, five is not enough.”
The growth in programs is for sports requiring rectangular fields, he said – including lacrosse, soccer and football.
The use of movable fences and pitching mounds will make even the largest field suitable for the youngest players.
That’s also how the city's consultant, Foresite Group, suggested turning part of at least one of the rectangular fields into a baseball field.
Cregge didn't take closing the park lightly. But the additional $1.26 million to phase construction was just too much for the city to spend.
"This is indeed a serious concern. If we just shut the park and do not provide an alternative, we will lose ½ the kids to other programs," he said in answer to emailed questions Tuesday morning.
Cregge is negotiating to find a temporary home for the Hopewell Youth Association program while the park would be closed. He admits there's no facility where all of the games could be played.
The current cost estimate for the park without phasing is $9.04 million. That cost includes two rectangular fields with synthetic turf, the baseball/softball fields, a trail system, a two-story concession/restroom building and a playground.
Erica Madsen of the Foresite Group said the park's extreme topography prevents adding more ball field, but the trail system will take advantage of the space. Two of the ball fields will even be six feet lower than the other fields.
The plan separates the parking and vehicles from the playing area, which Madsen said was an important safety factor. Parking splits the four existing fields at Bell Memorial Park.
City Council will be asked in a future meeting to approve the master plan so that detailed construction and design drawings can be created. City Manager Chris Lagerbloom said an expected increase in tax revenue due to negotiations with Fulton County could provide capital funds to help fund the park renovations.