Before an interlocal agreement between the city and Mercer Island School District over improving a number of school district ball parks comes to a close, members of both parties must finalize some logistic details in the deal. The main slow-down falls with MISD, which wants better clarification of the term “district use” in the agreement.
Councilmembers discussed the draft agreement at their regular meeting on Sept. 21, with only minor recommendations on improvements to the South Mercer Playfield facility. Under the proposed draft, three dirt baseball diamonds at the South Mercer park will be upgraded with synthetic turf and appropriate drainage. A concession stand and batting cage is also part of the plan, the latter amenity to be funded by the Mercer Island Little League at a cost of $40,000.
The money will come from Little League annual fee surcharges, which the organization has accumulated for just such a purpose, according to league president Brian Emanuals.
“This money has been collected over years. We’ve spent portions of it on smaller improvements — indoor batting cages at the Boys & Girls Club, some portable pitching mounds. But the intent was to save [the money] for bigger projects like this,” he said.
The City Council and Emanuals sealed the agreement in June. The only question now is where the new batting cage will be located. Most likely, the cage will be placed east of the three fields and north of the playground.
The new cage will not only be used by the Island’s 800-plus Little League players. It will be open to all teams practicing at the South Mercer Playfields, including the Mercer Island High School softball team.
“They’re very excited about the batting cage,” Emanuals said about the MIHS girls team, which practices at South Mercer. “They haven’t had a facility at all. It will be huge for them.”
Indeed, Councilmembers had various Island athletic teams in consideration when overseeing the improvements to South Mercer. So much so, in fact, that the Council agreed to fund an additional turf field on the premises that may be used by various sports teams — from soccer to lacrosse — with money remaining in the project’s budget.
“If we have $263,000 available, we could include a bid alternative for adding turf to one field to accommodate a youth soccer field,” said Councilmember Dan Grausz.
Councilmember Bruce Bassett added that the field could be used for other teams.
“Expanding helps with lacrosse and other sports,” he said.
As for other areas of the interlocal agreement, little amendment was needed. Councilmembers were satisfied with plans to improve athletic fields at all three elementary schools, with the city paying the school district an annual sum of $93,000 (from 2008 park levy funds) for maintenance costs. This is on top of $60,000 annually for the term of the inter-local agreement.
Three days after the City Council’s Sept. 21 discussion, the School Board had the chance to look over the agreement. Board members decided to hold off on approving the agreement with the city until a few clarifications could be made. Specifically, the board had questions on what was considered “district use” of the play fields and who was to decide whether or not a group requesting the field was a “district-related group.” The board decided to raise these questions with the city before approving the agreement.
In total, improvements to the South Mercer Playfield reached approximately $627,000.
The fields are expected to be completed by opening day for Little League next spring, which is traditionally in early April.