ASHLAND – During the Primary Election in May, citizens of Ashland will vote on a pair of ballot issues that affect one single project.
Voters will vote on a $1.5 million bond issue to finish renovation of the Jack Anderson Ball Park and also cast their ballot for or against a .5 cent increase in the city sales tax to pay for the bond.
The Ashland City Council recently passed resolutions to put the issues on the ballot at the request of the Ashland Youth Ball Association (AYBA). The AYBA has spearheaded a multi-phase project to improve the baseball and softball fields in Ashland for over a decade.
The project started in 2005 and was named the “Field of Dreams.” Organizers divided the project into phases so work could be done in stages as money was received.
Among the first improvements completed was a new regulation softball field. Later a new grass-infield baseball field was built. Further improvements included a gravel parking lot.
In 2015 the Scott Family Fan Center, which houses the concession stand, restrooms, press box and storage area, was completed nearly a year later after it was started due to flood plain issues.
The AYBA added a pitching machine and new batting cages that were built with the help of volunteer labor and donated materials in 2016.
Now, the people involved would like to bring the project to an end in one fell swoop.
“We’d like to finish the project as one complete piece,” said John Keith, AYBA president.
To do so, funding will come from the bond issue as well as private donations. Keith said it will take approximately $3 million to finish the project.
The work that remains includes flipping Field A (the former Legion baseball field) and Field B so the backstops are near the Fan Center. New lights and scoreboards will also be part of the project.
Two t-ball fields will be built on the west end of the complex, with a building housing restrooms and storage space and additional off-street parking for the t-ball fields.
The final design also has a flag pole with a memorial area and open space between the t-ball fields for other sports and activities. The local hiking/biking trail will also be routed through the ball park, Keith said.
“It is going to be part of the city trail system,” he said.
City Administrator Jessica Quady said the .5 cent sales tax increase will raise around $130,000 per year. It will be in place only as long as it takes to pay off the bond issue, she added.
If the bond issue and sales tax increase are approved by voters, the project will begin in summer of 2019 with completion in time for the 2020 ball season, according to Keith.
Now that the city council has approved putting the issues on the ballot, the AYBA is forming committees to focus on educating the public about the project. They plan to hold public meetings, attend meetings of various local organizations, hand out flyers and utilize social media.
Keith said several volunteers have already stepped forward to be lend a hand.
“We have at least 20 people who have shown interest in serving on these committees,” he said.
Interest in playing baseball, softball and t-ball is also high in the community. Keith said over 270 children have signed up for summer ball so far, slightly higher than previous years. As the area continues to grow, numbers will keep on increasing.
“We’re only going to get more and more kids involved in the program,” he said.
And with more kids, things can get pretty crowded at the current ball park. Keith said there are times, especially in early spring, when teams have to share a field for practice space.
Both the bond issue and sales tax increase would have to be approved by voters for the project to move forward. Keith said in the event one or both do not pass, the city council will have to come up with some money to replace the lights on fields A and B, which are in bad shape.
“If it does not go through, they’re going to be some hard decisions to be made,” Keith said.
Quady said the city council is in the process of updating their interlocal agreement with Ashland-Greenwood Public Schools, which owns part of the ball park. The two entities oversee the complex and the improvements, while AYBA volunteers help with fundraising, grounds keeping and concessions stand operations.