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Gladewater ISD bond election leaves fate of youth fields in limbo

By Sarah Thomas
March 12, 2014 at 10 p.m.

Gladewater ISD's upcoming bond election has left the fate of youth baseball up in the air, but city officials say it's a conundrum they will solve.

"That's going to leave a hole if there is no baseball," Bryan Muench said Wednesday morning.

Perryman Fields at Weldon Intermediate School could be bulldozed to make room for a new middle school if the $35 million bond package passes in May.

Muench, who has three children who play at the fields and is a board member on the Gladewater/Union Grove Youth Baseball Association, said the city would be making a mistake if it didn't make plans to have a sports complex built to replace those fields.

City Manager Sean Pate and Councilman Scott Owens said the city has no intention to simply scrap the fields and be done with its youth program.

"As city manager, I believe it's very important that we have a strong youth program. It's incredibly important to the future of Gladewater," Pate said. "It sits in limbo because we're waiting to see what happens with the bond."

Building a new middle school, Pate said, also is very important for the city's future and quality of life.

But, he added, the city would not be able to pay for a new sports complex on its own - an endeavor he said would cost more than $1 million based on the designs he's seen.

The city did the dirt work at Perryman Fields and paid $30,234 for fencing, lighting and creosote poles in 1983, according to information released by City Secretary Melba Haralson.

"I think there are enough willing participants to get together and pool resources," Pate said. "It's going to come down to two things: the land you put it on and the mechanism you use to pay for it. It's just going to take a partnership to do it. The wear and tear and the maintenance is astronomical."

Councilman Scott Owens agreed the city doesn't plan to just go with a ballpark.

"We have been working on a kind of master plan for a park to be located somewhere at one of the properties that GEDCO owns," he said Tuesday, adding it's wrong for anyone to assume the city is ready to just say there won't be any fields.

"That's not the feeling on this," Owens said. "I'm sure we'll work out something between the entities."

Robert Johnson, executive director of Gladewater Economic Development Corporation, said the agency is always willing to partner with the city when and where it can.

"We have the same goals as far as what is best for the city," he said Wednesday afternoon. "We have and will continue to (partner with the city), and we've done so with public infrastructure. We've done so with promotional endeavors like we've done with the new city sign."

At the city's last council meeting, Owens expressed concerns that the pending Gladewater ISD bond election could leave the city without a ball park because the proposed new middle school would be constructed atop the fields at Weldon Intermediate.

"If the bond goes through, what are we going to do with the kids and where they play ball?" Owens had asked the council.

He proposed a ballot measure leaving it for voters to decide in May whether GEDCO should chip in to have a sports complex built on a 90-acre tract of land it owns.

Owens had the item placed on the agenda to be discussed during the meeting, which left a bad taste in the mouths of Johnson, fellow council member Mayor Harold Wells and GEDCO President Todd Clifton.

"What they were saying was 'We're not sure this is the best avenue.' That was the problem last time at the council meeting," Owens said. "I was trying to force a vote because I felt time was of the essence, and that turned out not to be the case. We'll just have to work together, and we will. We have a tight schedule, but we'll get it done."

Owens added the ballparks at Weldon mean too much to him and "a lot of people here in the community who have come up through that, and some of the best memories I have are of my kids there and helping coach there."

Muench said he asked the City Council last year to do more for the existing fields but they didn't want to spend money on the old fields.

He said the city is talking about a new sports facility but that could be five years down the road because the city doesn't own the land yet.

"It's an easy answer for me because our kids are home schooled, so baseball is more important to us," he said. "Yes, you need school and the good grades, but if you want to raise them right, instill values, teach them about teamwork and develop character you need youth sports."

<em>- Follow Sarah Thomas on Twitter: <a href="" target="_blank">@SarahLJ</a></em>



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