Parks Committee splits on proposal to build field at ice rink site
BY KEVIN BONESKE
It will now be up to the full Rhinelander City Council to decide on whether to build a second softball field at Pioneer Park.
The city’s Parks, Buildings and Grounds Committee, at the recommendation of chairperson Sherrie Belliveau, agreed Monday to forward the proposal to the council after splitting 3-2 on a motion introduced by committee member Tom Gleason and seconded by Tom Kelly to continue the process toward developing a second softball field.
Belliveau, who voiced her opposition to the proposal, favored having the matter decided by the council at its Dec. 12 meeting following a split vote by the committee, whether the majority supported or opposed another softball field at Pioneer Park where boards for an ice skating rink used to be located.
The issue has been pending for months since supporters of a second field brought the proposal before the committee while noting they have secured the necessary funding for its construction without the use of city tax dollars.
However, representatives of the Farmers’ Market and Oneida County Fair, which also use Pioneer Park, have raised objections about the proposed field taking up space they use and also resulting in some trees being used for shade at the fair being cut down.
The proposal was put on hold by the council in late May when it was brought to light that the School District of Rhinelander didn’t have a current written agreement with the city for using the existing softball field at Pioneer Park, though the district was still paying the city a fee for each time a game was held there, with the last contract having been in effect for 2003. A new five-year agreement between the city and school district was finalized at the council’s Nov. 14 meeting.
RHS head softball coach D.J. DeMeyer, who is also involved with the local Little League program, appeared at Monday’s committee meeting to discuss the plans for a second softball field at Pioneer Park. He noted a second field built next to the existing one would result in five pine trees being removed.
“I’m the head coach for the girls softball program, and I help out in the Little League, and what I’m trying to do is build a program,” he said. “That’s all I’m trying to do, and by doing this other field, that would help us generate money.
“Like I said before, we would like to put in a public bathroom in between those two fields. We would like to beautify the whole park – improve the park at no expense to you guys.”
DeMeyer said “one major donor” has committed money to the project, but doesn’t want to go public until “we’ll be going in the right direction.”
Belliveau called Pioneer Park an “overly utilized park” that wasn’t an appropriate place to add another softball ball field.
“It’s busy constantly, and I have some concerns of cramming everything into Pioneer Park,” she said, also noting the city is in the process of putting together a master plan on using its parks.
Committee member Alex Young noted the controversy the proposal has generated as is evident by all the “stinking phone calls” he has received. He also favored having the matter decided by the full council and questioned what would be done about parking with the addition of a second ball field.
DeMeyer said he had no plans to add parking.
“There’s parking on the streets that you can use, too,” he said. “So, I really don’t think it’s an issue.”
Committee member Dawn Rog, who noted problems have surfaced getting to parking spaces at Pioneer Park near the museums, raised concerns about space being limited to expand the softball program there.
“This is something that’s only going to maybe satisfy your needs for a short period of time, and then you’re going to want to expand again,” she said. “Where are you going to expand?”
Rog, who opposed the proposal for a second softball field at Pioneer Park, said there are a lot of other uses for the city parks than for ball fields.
Gleason said there was no girls softball program in existence when the current softball field was configured at Pioneer Park.
“All there was was men’s fastpitch, which hosted a tournament at that park which was very popular,” he said. “I’ve had people come and ask me, ‘Why can’t we have tournaments like that in that park again?’
“They love going to the park. It was a great financial boom to the community. I tell people if they want more softball activity in the park like that, they need to support this project.”