New Oak Bluffs Little League ball field proposal rises

Supporters have made a new plan for a Little League baseball field in Oak Bluffs
Photo courtesy of Hutker Architects

Supporters have made a new plan for a Little League baseball field in Oak Bluffs

Now, five years after the dust from the previous plan, defeated after a long struggle, to build a new baseball park in Oak Bluffs has settled, Martha’s Vineyard Little League officials have developed a new plan for a diamond at a new site off Pennsylvania Avenue, commonly known as the Leonardo property.

At the request of the wastewater commission, town voters agreed to buy the Pennsylvania Avenue land at the 2007 annual town meeting for $1.1 million so it could be used for future expansion of the town wastewater plant. But the article approved by voters also contained language stipulating that the property might be used in the future for recreational facilities, such as a new little league field for the Island’s young ball players.

The new initiative takes the place of a plan to build a new baseball field at Veira Park in Oak Bluffs that caused a ruckus around town and resulted in a series of emotional town meetings and a lawsuit against the town by a group of neighbors.

Sponsored by MVLL, the earlier plan called for building a second baseball diamond, new seating for fans, an unpaved parking area off the road, plus a picnic and play area.

But the proposal drew heated criticism from some residents who feared the plan was too big for the relatively small park in the middle of a densely populated neighborhood and would create problems with safety, noise, traffic, and parking.

After voters approved an article to appropriate $200,000 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding for the new baseball field, at the annual town meeting in 2007, opposition to the project grew considerably.

A second article to rescind the CPA money was narrowly defeated at a special town meeting the following fall, followed by a series of heated meetings during a review by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

A group of neighbors then filed a lawsuit against the town to block the release of the $200,000 in CPA funds, on the grounds that the money could not be used to improve existing recreational property not acquired with CPA funds.

In the end, MVLL quietly moved away from the controversial and divisive proposal and instead turned their attention to creating a more viable and popular plan to would meet their needs for decades to come.

A better fit

Phil Regan, an architect and member of the board of directors for MVLL, said the tentative name for the baseball diamond is Penn Field, named after the road it is located off: Pennsylvania Avenue.

Mr. Regan said the site is big enough to allow for a regulation size little league field that is 200 feet to the fence and 46 feet from the pitchers mound to the plate. A second smaller field will be built for younger children to play T-ball.

The plans call for two wooden buildings that will be integrated into the ball field. One will be a grill set up to cook hot dogs and hamburgers and the other will be a covered shelter where people can get out of the hot sun or rain.

The second phase of the project calls for an irrigation system, a scoreboard, a flagpole, backstops, a retaining wall and two batting cages.

Mr. Regan said the site off Pennsylvania Ave. is better suited to a baseball facility than Veira Park because it has more room for the necessary amenities such as parking and snack stands. He said the new site is also much safer.

“It’s a better fit,” he said. “This project will enable us to play games in a safer environment and on a regulation field. Veira Park has served its purpose, but it is close to a busy street with little room for parking and foul balls.”

Mr. Regan said the new field would provide the opportunity for enhanced practice tools, simultaneous games and storage of maintenance equipment. It will also allow for the younger and older players to have separate home fields.

If all goes according to plan, the younger players in the Minor Leagues will play at Veira Park and the older players in the Major Leagues will play at Penn Field, he said.

Mr. Regan said the new field will more than likely bring an end to games being played in West Tisbury, next to the old fire station on Edgartown-West Tisbury Road, and reduce the number of games played in Edgartown.

The new field will also allow Martha’s Vineyard Little League to host tournaments at home. “Historically teams of all ages had to play their tournaments games off Island, which was a huge financial burden,” he said. “With this new field we would like to host at least one tournament per summer where teams come here, which would take the burden off the players and their families and also introduce new people to the Vineyard.”

A Leap of Faith

Mr. Regan said MVLL’s decision to move forward with building the new field represents a leap of faith because the group has yet to secure all of the funding for the project.

In 2008 MVLL received permission from the town community preservation committee to shift the $200,000 in CPA funds from the Veira Park project to instead build a new little league facility on the town-owned land off Pennsylvania Avenue.

Although the CPA money is still earmarked for the new baseball facility, it can only be used for work that goes through a public bidding process and meets the state’s procurement regulations.

Mr. Regan said he met with selectmen and town administrator Robert Whritenour earlier this year and received the green light to move ahead with the plans for the new little league facility.

For a number of years, it was unclear if MVLL would be able to use the property off Pennsylvania Avenue, because of the possibility of the wastewater commission expanding the wastewater plant in the future.

But earlier this year selectmen and Mr. Whritenour gave MVLL assurances that the wastewater commission would need to appear before town meeting and ask voters to take back the land being now slated to be used for the ball fields.

“Presumably this is an unlikely scenario,” Mr. Regan said. “During the August selectmen meeting, [MVLL] was given the go-ahead.”

But the MVLL did not want to waste another year without at least starting work to clear out the site. In September, the MVLL board of directors voted to proceed with the first phase of the project.

This included clearing of metal and glass, grading, importation of topsoil, hydro seeding, construction of an access road, installation of water service, parking for around 40 cars and the layout of two regulation infields.

The MVLL board was worried that putting the work through a public bid process would stall the project out another year. Plus when the board first put the first phase out to bid last year the lowest bid came in well over $200,000.

So the board of directors made the bold decision to move forward with the work with the hope that local businesses would be willing to donate some of their services for free, or at least do some of the work now and defer payment until later.

‘Amazing generosity’

Mr. Regan said the move paid off in spades, and thanks to the good will of several businesses such as John Keene excavation and Harold Lawry excavation, the first phase of the project has been completed at a cost of around $145,000.

Through private donations, MVLL has been able to further reduce the balance owed to the various businesses to around $90,000.

Mr. Regan said the local businesses have shown amazing generosity.

For example, John Keene agreed to cut a new road where there was previously woodlands and install 360 feet of hardener so that equipment can be hauled to the site.

Then when Mr. Keene was able to get on the site he started removing the substandard soil that was polluted after years of being used as a car dump, and then put in all new top soil at a cost of approximately $72,000.

Harold Lawry came in and cut a four-foot, 370-foot-long trench along the road so that MVLL can install water services. A portion of the site has also been laser graded to ensure that it is flat enough for the baseball field.

“I can’t say enough good things about John [Keene] and Harold [Lawry],” Mr. Regan said. “This probably wouldn’t have happened without them. They did this work at a huge discount and they put off taking payment until we have the money…. They took a huge risk for us, and we are grateful.”

Mr. Regan said Andy Marek Landscape, Chris Alley, and Matt Crowther also helped complete the first phase and also offered their services at a discount.

Mr. Regan said MVLL is now embarking on a fundraising campaign to pay back the businesses that have already completed work on the new baseball field, all at a much lower cost than normal.

The organization will soon be undertaking a campaign where large donors can have a brick engraved with their name on it that will then be part of the new retaining walls along the first and third base line, he said.

Moving forward, CPA funds will be used to fund remaining improvements including dugouts, irrigation, fencing, landscape, batting tunnels, scoreboard, flagpole, and maintenance building, Mr. Regan said.

One bit of good news is that the CPA legislation was recently amended to allow a regional entity like MVLL to reach across town lines and ask for CPA monies from neighboring towns that also use the regional facility.

Mr. Regan said MVLL would be approaching other Island towns next year with requests for CPA money.

Donations

The MVLL, a recognized 501[c]3 nonprofit organization, is currently accepting tax-deductible donations to go towards the new little league facility located off of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Anyone interested in making a donation, or have any questions or comments about the new field, can call Phil Regan at 508-693-3344 or email him at pregan@hutkerarchitects.com.

Mr. Regan said he would be happy to bring on any interested parties/potential donors on a site visit to show them the progress and answer any questions they might have.

Mr. Regan said the goal is to have Penn Field ready for the Little League season next spring, perhaps with some sort of dedication or celebration of the new field during the annual Little League parade.

“We are really excited, and obviously I think we can now show people a project that they are comfortable with and they can be excited about it too,” he said. “I think this is the best plan for everyone.”