The 22-month discussion of whether to build softball and baseball fields that became a divisive subject for the community was resolved Monday with a compromise.
The City Council voted 4 to 3 to award the bid in the amount of $4.3 million to Van Ewing Construction for overall grading at the site on Boxelder Road, and adding storm water, water, sewer, a crushed rock trail, trees on the west side and irrigation lines.
While the council did not agree to pay to build the fields, that work will set that up in the future.
The council didn’t budget for the project in July, so to be able to award the bid, the council also voted to amend its current budget.
The company was the only bidder for development of eight fastpitch softball fields that can be used by both girls fastpitch and Little League baseball teams, as well as all of the infrastructure associated with those fields.
Other contractors were also working on a bid but missed the deadline, according to the city’s engineering department.
According to the bid, building only four fields along with the infrastructure would cost the city $9.9 million, including $487,700 in construction management and engineering costs. Building the remaining four east fields would cost an additional $4.3 million.
After the city discussed the bid in a work session Monday, some members weren’t sure how they would vote. The original motion offered the council to award the bid in the amount of $9.4 million (not including the construction management and engineering cost), but that number was just a place holder. It needed to be in the motion for the motion to make sense, City Administrator carter Napier said.
Councilmen Kevin McGrath, Robin Kuntz and Everett Boss have opposed building the project now, saying the economy is too uncertain, that the government needs to finish other projects like the Madison pipeline, and that it needs to save the money for future city maintenance. They also didn’t support it because the city’s current budget doesn’t include the money for the project.
Monday, after listening to the public, which voiced both their support for and opposition to the project, they voted against the bid and against amending the budget. They also were concerned that now that the city approved the $4.3 million bid, it opens the door for future spending on the softball/baseball complex.
The city has about $12 million in unbudgeted money that it could spend on the project.
Councilman Ted Jerred said before the election that his support of the project would depend on the outcome of the presidential election. Some council members referred to him as the “key vote.”
“That’s why I’m having a bit of a struggle looking at doing the whole project now,” he said.
He supported the $4.3 million construction option and amendment of the budget.
Here are some points that were brought up during the hour-long public hearing:
S Large young population: There are about 10,000 people in Gillette younger than age 13 and they need a venue for sports, Mayor Tom Murphy said.
More than 6,700 children are actively involved in club sports and recreation but don’t have the fields available for practice, said Kevin Kienzle, director of the Gillette Girls Fastpitch Association.
“What you decide tonight goes towards the future of those players. It’s not just four fields for the Gillette Girls Fastpitch Association, although our need is great,” he said.
Kienzle encouraged the city to begin moving forward with the project in some way.
Opponents of the project said sports groups can use other fields to practice. But the need for new fields is greater than what is available, Murphy said.
“This is something that we have been struggling for quite some time. Creating small parks benefits very few of our citizens and not a lot of folks use them,” he said. “Between 4 o’clock in the afternoon and 5:30, coaches around our neighborhood are struggling to find any green patch to play soccer, or softball, or Little League, football or any of these things.”
“You guys are going to have to build more fields or build a bigger jail sooner or later. That is the truth. If you don’t get these kids some place to go,” said baseball coach Chris Rhodes, “This is for the kids of the future of Gillette. What we have right now will not accommodate that. And if we don’t start planning for it now, when? As a citizen of Gillette, 25 years from now I would like to still be coaching but I need a place to do it.”
No partners in place: Councilmen who opposed the project also said the project needed partners like the school district or Campbell County.
Kienzle said the county didn’t want to partner because the “city doesn’t hold true to their maintenance agreement when they partner.”
“Whether that’s the truth I don’t know but that’s what they said to me,” he said.
Scott Clem, Gillette resident, said the partners will join the city eventually and encouraged the city to begin moving forward with the project in some way.
Bad economy: The federal government is hurting the energy industry, one of Gillette’s main sources of revenue, and given the uncertainty for what’s going to happen to the industry and taxes, Gillette should save its money for more pressing needs, said Dave Allison.
“One problem we have, I think, is water. And I think every dollar we have should go into this Madison project. Fast track it, get it done so that we can have water,” he said. “Right now we are looking at water rationing next summer.”
“I believe 1 percent sales tax that we have is for needs, not dreams,” he said, adding that he will not vote for the tax next time.
Some proponents said an economic downturn is the time to do a project.
“Life is going to get tough, the coal industry is going to get pressured, the oil industry is going to get pressured, but when we get too scared to move forward, life gets really scary,” Jim West said. “I’m worried about my business and if I had $10 million in the bank I would do something to help move it forward.”
But Kuntz said there is a difference between private money and the taxpayers’ money.
Representatives of the tourism industry said the project would be an economic investment that would also diversify local economy. One six-day tournament with 40 teams would bring about $500,000 conservatively speaking, said Mary Silvernell, executive director of Campbell County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.
“If we have a facility like this that we can also market and advertise, I can guarantee it will have a return on that investment,” she said.