After nearly an hour and a half of discussion Monday night, the Kewaskum School Board unanimously approved spending up to $1.2 million on building a new baseball field and a new softball field on school property. “We have an opportunity here that is almost assuredly a once-in-a lifetime opportunity,” Superintendent James Smasal said.
“We are not going to have better pricing.” With the school district’s building project currently underway, construction costs would be lower, Smasal said. That, along with low interest rates, make now an ideal time to build new fields on school ground. The plan is to locate the new ball fields where the current middle school stands, with artificial turf on the infields and natural turf on the outfields.
The current middle school will be razed once the new middle school is completed. The plan hinges on approval from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The district will need to obtain a permit from the DNR because part of the outfields will be situated in wetlands on the east side of the middle school and high school, near the Milwaukee River. Part of the cost of the new ball fields would come from the 2016 referendum, Smasal said. The referendum covers the earthwork where the current middle school stands.
However, things such as turf, dugouts and fences are not part of the referendum. That money will come from operational funds and short-term borrowing, Smasal said. Fundraising will also need to be done, he added. The district currently spends about $25,000 a year on its baseball and softball fields, according to Smasal. The district’s baseball field woes have been discussed for years, Smasal stated.
The high school’s baseball team has been using a field at Kiwanis Park in Kewaskum. However, there are grading issues with that outfield and the field faces the wrong direction. In addition, there have been scheduling issues at the village park. “I think this is one of the more difficult topics brought before the district. For 27 years, baseball has been in the background and not the foreground.
We have taken a baseball field away and didn’t replace it,” Smasal said. Before reaching its decision, the School Board opened the topic to get input from the general public. About 40 people were at the meeting. A main topic was allowing the Kewaskum A’s, a men’s baseball team, to use the new baseball field.
The A’s sell beer at their games, and the team would want to continue that tradition. There currently are no other groups that sell alcohol on school property. “Unfortunately for us, selling alcohol is how we could help maintain a field like this,” said Jason Strobel, director of the A’s. He added that the team would be willing to not sell beer when school is in session. Kewaskum Police Chief Tom Bishop said that he does not have a problem with the A’s selling alcohol.
However, at this time, he is not on board with the idea of alcohol being sold on school property. “I’m OK with having alcohol there,” School Board Member Sue Miller said. “As long as you have the policies in the place, I think it’s OK.” “In my opinion, it is nonnegotiable that we would build a new baseball field and allow the A’s to play there,” Smasal told the board. “If you’re not going to have the A’s play , then I would suggest that you don’t do it.” Discussion also evolved around situating outfields on a flood plain and wetland areas. “I am all in favor of having a good field, but I’m not in favor of spending that kind of money to build it in a flood plain,” said Doug Gonring, who is the head coach for the boys varsity baseball team.
Mike Helmrick, project manager for the Rettler Corporation, the engineering firm that is designing the project, said that the ball fields would be constructed so that stormwater would not be an issue. Gonring said he is concerned that there may not be enough baseball players to warrant the price tag of the new field.
Kewaskum currently plays summer baseball, but the district may eventually follow the state’s trend and switch to spring baseball. If that happens, Gonring worries that there will not be as many baseball players because the students are involved in other sports as well. “If we were to have spring baseball this year, we wouldn’t be having them playing baseball for me.
They would have been running track, playing golf, playing tennis,” Gonring said. “This is probably one of the toughest decisions I’ve made on this board,” School Board Member Tim Ramthun said. “If not now, when are we going to do it?” School Board Member Jim Leister said. “We have all our finances in line.”