Ballfields at Eastside, Ahlschlager and McMahon parks will be restored to playing condition, after the City Council agreed to designate an additional $100,000 to the entity handling its youth sports programs.
Council members voted unanimously for the plan submitted by the Lawton Youth Sports Trust Authority to allocate funding to restore badly deteriorated fields. Trust Authority Chairman Brian Henry said the proposal would upgrade some — but not all — of the sports fields associated with City of Lawton facilities.
“It’s a start,” Henry said, of a plan Eastern Sports Management said would provide enough play-worthy fields to support the teams expected to play this year, and probably through next year.
At a trust authority meeting earlier this month, Henry said the fields are badly worn and show a lack of maintenance, and the work they need is beyond the ability of landscapers to repair. Eastern Sports Management (which manages youth sports for the trust authority) analyzed the situation and has identified firms that can rebuild the fields, returning them to top playing shape so a landscaper could then assume routine maintenance in coming years.
Henry said the need for play-worthy fields is a reflection of the increase in sports participation coordinated by Eastern Sports Management. There has been a 40 percent increase in the last two seasons, he said, with officials predicting that number will continue to rise as Eastern Sports adds sports for youth and adults. Henry said while officials believe the nine fields chosen for upgrades will support participation in the coming year and probably into next year, they aren’t as certain if participation continues to increase as dramatically as it has in recent months.
“Eastern has gotten youth sports moving,” said Ward 8 Councilman Randy Warren, who also is a member of the Lawton Youth Sports Trust Authority. He said if participation keeps expanding beyond the ability of fields to support it, officials will address the issue of additional funding to upgrade more fields.
Henry said the work is more than simply raking, mowing and weeding the deteriorating fields. Each of the nine fields — two at Eastside park, three at McMahon Park and four at Ahlschlager Park — includes an application of between 40 and 70 tons of infield mix, a mixture soil and seed that will restore the playing surfaces.
“This is just to get them to where the kids can play on them safely,” Henry said. Other work includes setting home plate, pitching and base anchors, edging fields and rough grades, lip removal and cleanup and applying new surfaces.
Council members said the work is important because it is part of the formula being developed to encourage families to play locally. Ward 5 Councilman Allan Hampton said some families are going out of town to play, “because their facilities are better.”
“They’ve been neglected for a long time,” said Ward 1 Councilwoman Mary Ann Hankins.
Henry said while trust authority members want to upgrade all the sports fields, that cost is prohibitive (he estimated five times the $100,000 allocated this week). Warren said trust authority members also want to be cautious: they don’t want to upgrade more fields than what will be needed for the coming seasons.
Henry said there are other issues to consider, including whether water is available to maintain fields. Eastern Management already knows there isn’t a water source at Ahlschlager Park, and while Eastside Park has a sprinkler system, no one knows its condition. Mayor Stan Booker said the next step for Eastern Sports Management and city staff is bringing back a plan to address the watering issue.