January 9, 2014 in Washington Voices

Little League group proposes sports complex

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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When Brian Winkler, president of Wm. Winkler Co. in Newman Lake, approached the Seabee Veterans of America group he belongs to and asked if they would volunteer to do the grading for baseball fields near Morning Star Boys Ranch, he had no idea the project has been hotly debated for years.

“The Seabees do a lot of volunteer work and we wanted to do something good for the kids,” Winkler said. Together with another contractor, N. A. Degerstrom in Spokane Valley, Winkler coordinated the moving of 20,000 cubic yards of material on a site where Spokane South Little League wants to build a sports complex. The contractors donated the heavy machinery, and the Seabee veterans donated the manpower.

“We probably did $150,000 worth of work up there,” Winkler said, “but it was all volunteer work. We didn’t spend any public money.”

Spokane South Little League first proposed the construction of baseball fields just southeast of the intersection of Glenrose Road and 37th Avenue more than five years ago, on land that was then owned by the Morning Star Boys Ranch.

At a special meeting of the Glenrose Community Association in February 2009, many neighbors expressed concern about a sports complex they feared would bring an increase in traffic, noise and light pollution to their semi-rural neighborhood.

Since then, the proposed complex has been downsized from 40 to 20 acres, and Spokane South Little League purchased the land from the Morning Star Boys Ranch Foundation for $577,500 in September 2012.

Morning Star Boys Ranch is not participating in the development.

Although the proposed complex is now smaller, the neighborhood is still not embracing the idea.

“Our priority is to preserve the rural character of the area where we live,” said Richard Brooke, president of the Glenrose Community Association. He added that some may look at the neighborhood’s opposition as being anti-kid and anti-Little League, but that’s not the point. “This is not the right location for the sports complex.”

Brooke said the neighborhood’s biggest concern is the increase in traffic on Glenrose Road and 37th Avenue. Both are two-lane roads without shoulders.

In 2009, the Spokane Regional Sports Commission offered to set up mediation for the two parties, but that didn’t happen.

In January 2010, Spokane County Hearing Examiner Mike Dempsey discounted many of the claims brought forward by the Glenrose Community Association and allowed for grading to begin.

Since then, neighbors have complained to the county about the lack of dust control and weed growth on the site.

The sports complex is located in Spokane County, yet SSLL field coordinator Brian Gosline gave a short presentation at the Spokane Park Board’s Recreation Committee last week, asking for funding.

Gosline said the completed project – which would include a baseball diamond slightly bigger than the one at Gonzaga University, a smaller diamond for disabled players and a multi-use area big enough for two soccer fields – would cost between $4 million and $5 million.

“We are at a point where we need money,” Gosline told the committee.

When asked by committee members how much money, Gosline said he hadn’t prepared a detailed budget, but building just the large baseball diamond would cost between $1.5 million and $2 million.

In a follow-up email, Gosline declined to say how much money Spokane South Little League has raised toward the completion of the sports complex but wrote that the group has invested close to $300,000 to date – all from cash and in-kind donations.

At the Recreation Committee meeting, Gosline said the project ideally should be a regional venture, supported by the county and the city of Spokane.

“We can’t hold a Little League tournament in Spokane because we don’t have an approved field,” Gosline said. “We’ve got to get it built this year.” SSLL has about 600 players and is renting fields from Spokane Parks and Recreation Department.

In the meantime, Glenrose Community Association is realizing that the project can’t be stopped.

“They have all the permits for what they are doing,” Brooke said. “We don’t like it but we recognize it’s reality. We just want to make sure they are in compliance with what’s allowed.”

Peter Ice, who was president of the Glenrose Community Association when the sports complex was first proposed, said he wonders how long it will take SSLL to do something to keep down the dust and the weeds expected to grow back on the barren land this summer.

“It’s irresponsible to strip off the land and just leave it,” Ice said, adding that considering SSLL is still looking for funding, the neighborhood could be “looking at a half-finished project for quite some time.”

Gosline declined to set a deadline for completion of the sports complex.

Gosline told the Recreation Committee that the project has consumed seven years of his life and he would be happy to hand it over to someone else, if that were possible.

“But I am committed to exhausting all feasible possibilities in early 2014 to get it built,” Gosline wrote in an email after the meeting. “The kids in this area need this.”

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