By SHANNON WATKINS
Calfee Park was once again on the agenda at Tuesday night’s council meeting. As before, the topic was upgrading Calfee’s visitors’ clubhouse and umpire’s quarters to meet professional baseball standards.
Before this portion of the meeting, however, former council member Morgan Welker stood up to address council in a heartfelt plea to work to keep professional baseball in Pulaski.
“Baseball here, for what we spend on it, is a good value for the town,” said Welker. “There’s not many things that we do that can bring in 800 to 1,000 people together 34 nights in a summer. And I venture to guess that half those folks are from out of town. It gives those people a good impression of Pulaski, and it’s very valuable for community pride. Whatever we need to do within reason, we need to do to keep it in our town.”
He also brought to council’s attention three areas around Calfee that he felt were safety concerns. These were, according to Welker, the steps from the Fifth St. parking lot up to the entrance; along Pierce Ave. between the end of the outfield wall and the Pierce Ave. is a short section of guardrail that Welker wanted to see extended further; and a need for stripes at an intersection near the park.
Staff had come back with three options for the upgrade, based on what council had discussed last time. Town Manager Shawn Utt presented them to council, complete with pros and cons.
Plan A would involve 1,440 square feet of additional space plus the renovation of 882 square feet. This was the option that Parks and Facilities Director Dave Hart had indicated he preferred to the Southwest Times during a tour of Calfee.
Pros included extra space for players, which could also be a buffer against future upgrade requirements; cons were higher construction costs and not being able to begin construction until after the 2014 season.
Vice Mayor Joseph Goodman said his impression from talking to the Appalachian League was that if plans were in place by the coming season, likely baseball would still be approved for Calfee on the understanding that improvements would be made before the 2015 season, though he expressed concerns about the further future.
“Have we spoken with the Appalachian League to see if there’s any proposals currently in place to expand the current requirements?” asked Vice Mayor Joseph Goodman. “To make sure that we don’t spend all this money and then they say, ‘By the way, you need three more inches per player.’”
“My understanding is the current requirements have been there for twenty-some odd years and there are no expectations to increase it,” said Utt, as Hart agreed.
“They’ve in the past adopted existing standards and new standards,” said Hart. “So we would fall under existing standards.”
Plan B, which had been raised by Councilman Greg East, was to add 882 square feet of additional space and renovate 1,200 square feet, which involved reclaiming space that had been used for locker rooms in the past which is now used for maintenance. It also called for adding needed extra space for maintenance, including plumbing facilities.
Pros included possible lower construction costs, a greater likelihood of being able to start this winter, a better possibility of some of the work being completed by town crews and a more efficient use of existing space. Cons included its barely meeting space requirements for visiting teams, coaches getting more of the new space than players, a smaller (but standards-acceptable) umpire’s room, cheaper walls with a lower lifespan and the need to rebuild the maintenance area.
“Mr. East and I have had some conversations about trying to use the entire structure for the new visitors’ locker room, and do something else on the maintenance side,” said Utt. “The concern that I would have, I think Mr. Hart would follow, is we need to have some type of maintenance area at Calfee Park, so you either have a newly constructed area for maintenance folks, or a newly constructed area for visiting players.”
Plan C, mentioned as a possibility by Goodman at the last meeting, was to have a modular unit put in, like those used as additional classroom space by the school system. Utt said that he had contacted Pulaski County Schools Director of Operations Ronnie Nichols in regards to this, who had put him in touch with Vanguard Modulars Building Systems, who he said does in fact manufacture locker room units.
“Now, what I don’t know is whether that locker room unit is built to the same standard as a classroom unit, which is basically a doublewide, or if it’s built to a more commercialized modular standard,” said Utt, who said that would be sturdier. “The prices were reasonable on a new locker room unit, $55-$60 a square foot, versus, I was estimating, $100 a square foot for new construction,” said Utt.
Pros include the lower cost, quicker installation and financial options that include a potential lease from the supplier. Cons include adding access ramping due to the unit’s height off the ground, the shorter lifespan of a modular unit versus that of permanent construction and the fact that part of existing structures would need to be demolished to make room for it.
“So I guess what we’re looking for tonight is some type of direction from council,” said Utt. “I guess to make sure you’re still on board for doing something at Calfee Park, first of all, and second, what that something might be.” He said that having everything ready to go for whatever plan council decided on as soon as the next baseball season is over would probably be the best idea.
For at least part of the funding, Utt mentioned that Comcast had made a donation for town tourist events, “and as Mr. Welker said, this is probably the biggest tourist event we have every summer, so that would be an appropriate use of those funds.” He also advised setting an amount not to exceed $20,000 from this fund to get an architect’s assistance on the project.
After much discussion, council passed a motion to direct staff to continue to work on the three proposals, as well as a fourth option to use all the space in the existing structure, and also that council support the improvements to the visitors’ clubhouse at Calfee Park.