Friday, March 21, 2014

Build it and they will come?

Bellevue favors changes to O’Donnell Field for softball league and soccer

Express Staff Writer

     The Bellevue Public Works Department and Parks Committee will soon be in talks with adult softball enthusiasts who would like to make improvements to O’Donnell Field in order to attract summer softball leagues to town.

     The changes would also provide more room for thriving youth soccer leagues at O’Donnell Field.

     “What I like is the collaboration between the two groups,” said Mayor Chris Koch at a City Council meeting Monday, following a presentation by Bellevue resident and Blaine County School District employee Jeff Jones.

     Jones was joined by Bellevue residents and softball players Rich Lang and Brandon Ivie. The group presented plans to raise about $3,000 to remove fences around one small, unused baseball diamond at the east end of the park, which would allow more room for soccer. The fencing and other equipment would be used to complete a softball field at a larger diamond at the west end of the park. The improved field would include an outfield fence 280 feet from home plate.

     Jones and his partners in the project said the new field would draw adult softball players, and remain versatile enough to be used by youth baseball teams.

     “I play 13 [softball] tournaments each year, from Arco to Salmon,” said Jones. “We need to bring teams to Bellevue.”

      Jones, Lang and Ivie play softball at Lion’s Park in Hailey, where they say the league is “dying,” dropping from 12 teams several years ago to five teams last summer. They expressed frustration with getting Lion’s Park improved.

     “We are looking for a park we can be more involved in,” Lang said.

     Jones said the group would enlist volunteers to run the “snack shack” at the field during tournaments, and help the city identify maintenance issues at the park.

     Bellevue resident Juan Salamanca, who has run youth soccer leagues at O’Donnell Field for four years, said at the meeting Monday that he supports the plan.

     “The reconfiguration is possible. We want the field used,” said Salamanca.

     Koch gave city staff direction to meet with all the players in the proposed upgrade to put together a plan for moving forward.

     The City Council stressed the need for Jones and his supporters to raise their own money to complete the project.

     Jones said during an interview that he is confident he can raise $3,000 during the next six weeks and complete the new softball field.

     “With a second field [in addition to Lion’s Park], we could have 16 teams playing, with separate divisions,” Jones said.

     “I would like to get it done in time for a Cinco de Mayo tournament,” he said.

     In other Bellevue news:

  • The City Council voted Wednesday to not support further research or fundraising efforts for a kayak wave structure in the Big Wood River at the No. 45 Irrigation District head gate, in the Howard Preserve. The plan was proposed by Parks Committee Chairman Craig Wolfrom.

     The City Council denied the proposal because it conflicted with the stated goals of the Howard Preserve, to maintain a quiet area, and because the wave structure had too many “unknowns” associated with its design and functionality.

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