City Council votes 6-2 against proposal
BY KEVIN BONESKE
Efforts to build a second softball field at Pioneer Park have struck out.
A capacity crowd was on hand in the City Hall council chambers Monday night when the Rhinelander City Council voted 6-2 against the proposal with only aldermen Tom Gleason and Tom Kelly supporting the motion for a second field.
The issue had been pending for months since supporters of a second field brought the proposal before the Parks, Buildings and Grounds Committee and noted they secured the necessary funding for its construction without the use of city tax dollars.
Rhinelander High School head softball coach D.J. DeMeyer, who is also involved with the local Little League, spoke at Monday’s council meeting in favor of constructing a second softball field next to the existing field at Pioneer Park as a way to build the girls softball program.
“To build a program, you’ve got to have fields where both varsity and the JV and youth program are all in one area,” DeMeyer said. “Right now, when you’ve got half the teams at Pioneer and half at West Side, it’s really difficult to get in touch with all the girls and show them what needs to be done to help build their esteem and make them better ballplayers.”
The school’s activities director, Brian Paulson, also appeared at the meeting and voiced his support for the project.
“If there was a new field built, of course we want to play at the new field (and have) both teams at Pioneer Park,” Paulson said. “I think that would also save on the parks department, instead of trucking their machinery all over all the way to West Park, and raking that field, too, they’d be right next to each other, right next to where they house their equipment at Pioneer Park.”
The School District of Rhinelander, which has been using the existing field at Pioneer Park for varsity games, has entered into a new agreement with the city to continue playing there for the next five years.
Representatives of the Hodag Farmers’ Market and Oneida County Fair, which also use Pioneer Park, raised objections about a second softball field taking up space they use and also resulting in some trees being used for shade at the fair being cut down. Council members heard those objections Monday night from fair coordinator Nancy Gehrig and Steve Richardson of the Farmers’ Market.
“Right now, this has been the perfect spot for the fair to be housed, because we have no other land, no other area, and city has been great to work with the county by allowing the fair to be there for the past eight years,” said Gehrig, who pointed out areas at the park currently used by the fair that could be affected by where a second softball field would to be built under the proposal.
Though Richardson didn’t dispute the need for another softball field, he said “it’s not right for Pioneer Park.”
“By the drawing itself, you’ll see that the proposal will impinge upon parking as it is now – a very congested area for parking,” he said.
Council member Dawn Rog suggested the school district should build another softball field instead of having a second one located at Pioneer Park.
“The Rhinelander school district needs to build a girls softball field for girls softball,” she said. “It’s about time. They’ve made a lot of improvements to their school.”
Council member Sherrie Belliveau, who chairs the Parks Committee, expressed her concerns about the “overutilization of Pioneer Park.”
“It’s a beautiful park and everybody wants to put everything there,” Belliveau said. “They want to put a band shell there. They want to put a new ball field there. They want basketball courts. There’s only so much that park can handle.”
Most of the public sentiment, which was expressed to council members, opposed a second softball field being constructed at Pioneer Park where the boards for an ice skating rink used to be located. That sentiment included concerns about the park being short on space and available parking. Audience members at Monday’s meeting applauded after council members voted down the proposal.