BY KEVIN BONESKE
The full Rhinelander City Council will hear all concerned parties on whether to allow a second softball field to be constructed at Pioneer Park before voting on the matter.
The seats were filled in the council chambers at City Hall for Monday’s Parks, Buildings and Grounds Committee meeting with 20-plus Hodag girls softball players and coaches on hand along with others with an interest in whether another softball field should be built at the park where an outdoor ice rink with the boards in deteriorating condition now exists.
The proposal, which calls for the elimination of some trees to be able to locate the softball field there, has sparked controversy among various users of the park, which also includes being the site of the weekly Hodag Farmers’ Market on Saturdays from Memorial Day weekend through mid October and the annual Oneida County Fair in early August.
RHS head softball coach D.J. DeMeyer spoke on behalf of team members in favor of constructing the second softball field, for which he said has now secured funding to be built at Pioneer Park without the use of city tax dollars.
He noted softball fields in the area are presently “double-booked” for use, while baseball fields used locally wouldn’t be suitable for softball because they have an elevated pitching mound as opposed to softball fields using a level pitching circle.
DeMeyer said a second field at Pioneer Park would not impinge upon space used there for the county fair and could also bring in teams to the area for a tournament, for which local businesses could benefit.
“We can also raise money at the tournament through concession stands,” he said. “I think I explained in February (before the committee) that our big picture was to put in a bathroom (between the two fields).”
As for any trees that may have to be removed to construct a second softball field, DeMeyer said supporters of the field would be willing to work with the city to replace those trees.
He said it would be “an injustice” if the second softball field wouldn’t be built at the park.
“We’re not asking for any taxpayer dollars,” DeMeyer said. “We’re asking, actually, to beautify the park. I’ve got 20 girls here. They need it. West Side Park is wet in the spring.”
Opponents to the proposal that were on hand for Monday’s committee meeting included Steve Richardson, who spoke on behalf of the Hodag Farmers’ Market. He noted the plans for a second softball field would include an area presently used for the market.
“I would ask you not to site a ballpark there,” Richardson said.
Oneida County Fair Board coordinator Nancy Gehrig also expressed concerns about the proposal, noting trees that would be cut down presently provide shade for animals during the fair.
“That’s the only shady area that has electricity in the park for those animals,” she said. “Those big trees…are the trees everybody begs to be under.”
Committee member Tom Gleason, who backed the proposal, said he hoped another softball field at the park would attract teams to the area for tournaments as had happened several years ago.
“I think a softball field is a positive thing for this community,” Gleason said.
The vote to recommend approval of the proposal didn’t pass on a 2-2-1 tie when Gleason and Tom Kelly supported the motion and Dawn Rog and Alex Young opposed it with committee chairperson Sherrie Belliveau abstaining.
Committee members then passed a motion to send the matter to a public hearing at a special meeting of the full City Council, which could then vote to approve or reject after taking testimony. The date and time of that special meeting will be set at another special meeting the council has scheduled for May 31.