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Springdale looks to improve ball fields with $16.3 million in bond money; voters to decide May 9

March 27, 2023 at 6:31 a.m.
The fields at Randal Tyson Recreational Complex in Springdale are shown Saturday, March 25, 2023. The Springdale City Council voted unanimously to call a special election for residents to decide on about $360 million in bonds to allow the city to undertake a new round of capital improvements, including upgrades for parks. New turf has been proposed for the Randal Tyson Recreational Complex. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/J.T. Wampler)

SPRINGDALE — Ball fields or pickleball courts?

Chad Wolf, director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, can’t say which the city needs more.

Springdale’s proposed bond program would give residents an estimated $16.3 million to spend on nine parks.

Residents will vote May 9 on about $360 million in bonds to allow the city to undertake a new round of capital improvements. Early voting starts May 2 and includes annual school elections. A large part of the program, $185 million, would pay back bonds issued in 2018 and 2020.

The city won’t be building new parks this time around; rather, city staff proposes improvements to existing parks.

A big part of the money earned from the sale of bonds would be used to convert ball fields from grass to turf, Wolf said. The city would install infield turf on 13 fields at the Randal Tyson Recreational Complex and J.B. Hunt Park. Adding turf would cost about $200,000 each for baseball and softball fields, and $1 million for the one soccer field the city would convert.

“We would have a championship-caliber soccer field,” noted Colby Fulfer, the mayor’s chief of staff.

The city also would hope to build four turf ball fields at Shaw Family Park in the far northwest part of town. The fields at the C.L. “Charlie” and Willie George Park — in the far southeast part of town — were laid with turf when the park was built in 2015.

The spring leagues organized by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department this year include a total of 231 teams of baseball, softball and soccer, with 2,808 registered players, reported Tanner Spangler, recreation superintendent for the Parks Department.

And pickleball enthusiasts are clamoring for more courts. Mike LeMaster, who lives in Fayetteville but plays in Springdale, addressed the City Council on March 14, asking for more courts.

The city has converted one indoor basketball court at its Recreation Center to three pickleball courts. These remain full from about 9 a.m.-4 p.m. with 50 to 100 people playing each day, Wolf said.

Mayor Doug Sprouse said the city plans outdoor pickleball courts at Murphy Park, the Tyson complex and other parks — if it makes sense and if the demand is still there.

“I think a facility of indoor courts might be a good investment for someone in the private sector,” he added.

Sprouse cautioned the projects listed are only possible plans. The City Council would vote on each project and expenditures if the bond passes.

Turf time

April showers don’t bring ballgames. League games and even tournaments can be canceled when it rains, Wolf said.

Tournaments are a big generator of revenue for the city, Fulfer said. If tournaments are canceled or postponed, it can cost the city money.

Springdale city parks host a total of about 14 baseball, softball and soccer tournaments each year, Spangler said. The city hosts about 2,000 teams and 2,100 players — and their families — throughout the year.

LeMaster noted he and his friends also spend money in Springdale when they come to play pickleball.

Families in town for tournaments eat at restaurants, shop, buy gasoline and stay in hotels. Their purchases bring revenue to the city in the form of sales and restaurant taxes.

The money they spend in the city helps pays for the city’s park infrastructure, Fulfer said.

“Never mind about improving the fields for tournaments, we should first look to what those fields will do for residents,” said Bill Rogers, president of the Springdale Chamber of Commerce. The number of youth participating in some sort of sport has doubled from a few years ago when the city couldn’t get enough players in some age groups to field more than one team, he said.

“To upgrade the baseball, softball and soccer fields will be enormous to players at all levels,” Rogers said.

Wolf explained the 16 grass ball fields the city maintains don’t drain as efficiently as turf. It might take a grass field half a day in the sun to dry. But turf fields are designed with drainage and can be playable in an hour, he said.

“Our parks are heavily used. And they provide healthy activities for children. It’s so hard to get the kids outside and active when they’re stuck to their screens,” Sprouse said, calling on his own experience as a grandfather.

The bond money also would complete a conversion to all LED lighting at all the parks and add parking at the busiest, he said.

Final face-lift

City leaders also hope bond money would complete renovations at the city’s Recreation Center, including improvements to the concession stand, locker rooms and classrooms, Wolf said.

The city in 2018 bought the Recreation Center for $4 million.

“Our amazing rec center was purchased with a portion of our 2018 bond issue,” Sprouse said Tuesday in his annual “state of the city” speech. “What a bargain that facility has been for the people of our city.

“When all renovations are complete, and including the purchase price, we’ll have a total investment of less than $10 million for a building and parking that would easily cost $30 million to build today, and that doesn’t include land costs.”

Council members unanimously approved the purchase, knowing the building needed repair. Council member Mike Overton expressed “buyer’s remorse” when the council toured the center for the first time in January 2019.

He said Wednesday he no longer feels that way. The improvements have sold him.

“Look at how much it’s been used,” Overton said.

Cleanup hitters

The young players on the city’s baseball, softball and soccer teams might not care whether they play on turf or in the mud, but their parents do.

“They have cleats,” said Anne Capdeville of Springdale. “But I don’t want them getting in my car.”

Capdeville watched her son Noah, 12, during his first baseball practice of the spring league March 13 at the Tyson complex.

At an adjacent field, Layne Keen said she despairs trying to keep her son’s white baseball pants clean.

Capdeville said postponed games make it harder as she is a single mother with three kids playing sports at different times and different locations. She said two or three games in a typical 10-game season are canceled.

Wolf said parents are told before the season that games will be rescheduled for Friday night or Wednesday night, as needed. The schedule puts the league games and championships ending before Memorial Day, so families can get on with their summer plans, he said.

Andrew Proffitt of Springdale liked the prospect of the fields at Hunt Park being turfed. His daughter Isabelle, 9, plays there on a 10 and younger team. He stood in a first-base dugout at George Park watching T-ball practice for his son, Adam, 6.

“It’s a small park, an older park, and they have more canceled games,” Proffitt said of Hunt. The park includes six fields and 160 acres for other activities, Wolf said.

Special election

Springdale residents will vote on a $360 million bond issue May 9. The ballot contains six questions.

Estimated cost and projects are:

• $135 million for street improvements.

• $16.3 million for park improvements.

• $16.3 million for a new Senior Center.

• $7.8 million for a new fire station and other improvements.

• $140 million to refinance debt on the 2018 bonds

• $45 million to refinance the 2020 bonds

Source: NWA Democrat-Gazette


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