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Council balks at $212K for batting cage facility

The batting cage facility at Island Crest Park is covered with chain-link walls and has a cement foundation. The structure, pictured here on Dec. 11, includes two batting cages, along with lighting for use at night.  - Elizabeth Celms/Mercer Island Reporter
The batting cage facility at Island Crest Park is covered with chain-link walls and has a cement foundation. The structure, pictured here on Dec. 11, includes two batting cages, along with lighting for use at night.
— image credit: Elizabeth Celms/Mercer Island Reporter

City Councilmembers balked last Monday when interim Parks and Recreation Director Manny Ocampo presented them with a $212,000 estimate to build a batting cage facility at the newly renovated South Mercer Playfields. The price, when compared with phase one of the South Mercer renovation project, would make up 32 percent of the $671,000 needed to complete South Mercer’s field turf replacement, tree removal and irrigation, plus permit and construction fees.

“I don’t understand how the city can bring forth a quarter-million dollar bill for a batting cage. That’s just not right,” said Councilmember Mike Cero.

Little League president Brian Emanuels, who has promised that the league will contribute $40,000 toward a batting cage facility, agreed.

“The estimates for a batting cage and scoreboards are way high. I hope they can be reduced to the $40,000 that Little League is contributing,” Emanuels said, referencing three electronic scoreboards estimated to cost a sum total of $92,000.

Ocampo said that the prices outlined in the project budget are realistic in terms of the quality level that city staff is aiming for.

“Yes, $212,000 is a bit eye-popping. But what this involved is a roof design that fits very well into the aesthetics of the facility. We’re confident that we can [develop] a design that will come in much closer to the budget expected by the school district and users. The same goes for the scoreboards,” Ocampo said.

He added that the budget is not yet set in stone, and that final design and construction costs will be the responsibility of the school district and community user group donors.

Dave Anderson of DA Hogan Engineering, the firm behind the South Mercer renovations and batting cage development, was irritated by the City Council’s response to Ocampo’s presentation, which he found obtuse and inappropriately tongue-in-cheek.

“I was really put off by the whole meeting. I really wish they’d at least asked the question about what goes into [the batting cage facility] rather than laugh at it,” Anderson said, referring to jokes made about the cage coming with a “retractable roof,” among other high-end amenities. “I didn’t think it was a professional way at reacting, and I wish I’d had the opportunity to go in and explain [the projected cost].”

According to the budget presented to Councilmembers on Dec. 7, a new batting cage facility is part of “Potential Future Phase Alternatives” not the fundamental field renovation project that costs $671,000. The city and school district are already set on having a new batting cage facility, concession stand, scoreboards and field lighting improvements, so the question is not about “if” but rather “how much?”

Currently, all four of these “future phase alternatives” cost $629,000. In addition to $212,000 for a batting cage and $92,000 for three scoreboards, the estimates include $87,000 for concessions and $239,000 to improve the lighting system for South Mercer’s main playing field. Councilmembers accepted estimates for most of these amenities. It was solely the batting cage facility that appeared unreasonable.

Yet such a reaction, according to Anderson, is amiss.

The engineering consultant explained that the reason the batting facility is estimated at $212,000 is that it is not simply a cage, but rather an enclosed indoor facility with a roof, concrete floor with turf covering and ample lighting for night use.

“Since it’s going into a grass area, we need to modify the irrigation system so the sprinklers don’t shoot water into the cage. We’ve got an electric component for lights and power, engineering costs for the roof, concrete foundations, turf covering and heavy duty fencing, plus the internal fencing and netting tunnels,” Anderson said. “This is a net construction cost of $140,000.”

And then there’s the additional cost of structural and electrical engineering, permit and project management fees, sales tax and labor, which brings the total to approximately $212,000, “unless the city wants to waive its own drainage requirements,” Anderson said.

But why must the South Mercer batting facility be so state-of-the art? The answer is simple: Title IX.

“The boys’ baseball facility at Island Crest Park includes a roof, concrete floor, lights, power for pitching machines, turf covering the concrete and fencing. We’d estimated a similar facility at South Mercer because of the Title IX mandate that what’s provided for girls’ softball needs to be equivalent to boys baseball,” Anderson explained.

The Mercer Island High School boys baseball team practices at Island Crest Park, while the girls softball team uses the South Mercer Playfields. Indeed, the idea to install a new batting cage at South Mercer was initiated not only to benefit the Island’s Little League players, but also the MIHS girls’ softball team.

But today, this plan is starting to look shaky.

Anderson was so upset by the City Council’s reaction to DA Hogan’s cost estimate, that he said he no longer plans to go ahead with the batting cage project.

“It may be that I’ve been rubbed the wrong way. I’m doing phase one — the infields and bull pens — but I’m not going to be the consultant for phase two,” he said.

However, if the city is unable to reduce the project’s overall cost, the batting cage might not be fiscally possible anyway.

“It appears that there will not be sufficient funds to proceed with the all of the bid alternatives identified,” the budget proposal reads. “However, staff recommends that city staff, in consultation with the school district and design consultant still proceed to develop designs and, potentially, bid specifications for these alternatives.”

And that is what the City Council did at its Dec. 7 meeting. It moved to approve the South Mercer Playfiled Improvement project budget with a firm caveat that staff re-asses the $212,000 estimate for a batting cage — a request that, as Anderson pointed out, is not as easy as the Council may presume.

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