Olentangy Valley News

Township OKs park, ballfields as trustee protests

$1 million donation came with condition to build softball fields; trustee says bike paths are preferred

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Liberty Township will push forward with a plan to build competition-level softball fields at South Liberty Park over the objections of one trustee.

The township board of trustees voted 2-1 at its Feb. 12 meeting to spend $25,000 for design and site-plan work for the redevelopment of the park last week. An anonymous donor, paired with the township by the Olentangy Youth Athletic Association, has offered to pay for a large portion of construction costs at the park if its primary use is competition-level girls softball.

According to the township's estimates, construction costs could reach about $1 million at the site, just west of the Liberty Township/Powell YMCA building on North Liberty Road.

Trustee Melanie Leneghan said just because a donor offered to support the project does not mean the trustees have to move forward with it.

"These parks are owned by the taxpayer," Leneghan said. "The taxpayer in this community has never once on any survey said that they wanted their parks used for girls softball."

Anderson said there was "quite a demand" for youth baseball and softball fields in the area. He said the development would benefit boys, too, because it would free up space on area fields formerly used for both baseball and softball.

Preliminary plans for the park's development also call for multiuse fields for soccer, lacrosse and other sports. The full details of the donation will not be known until the design work is complete.

"To me, it would be a sad, sad day if we didn't capitalize on a donation like this," Anderson said.

Context, a landscape architecture firm based in Fortville, Ind., has been hired by the township to provide design services for the project.

Leneghan said she was not sure how many local taxpayers would benefit from the developed park.

"I really don't know how many Liberty Township residents are going to spend much time on those fields," she said. "In fact, I think it will be quite limited."

Leneghan said many township residents currently use the undeveloped park for summer camps and sports practice, and added she would hate to see residents who are not interested in softball lose that park space.

Trustee Tom Mitchell said he guaranteed more people would use the park after the fields are built.

Trustee Shyra Eichhorn said she supports the effort to build softball fields at the park in part because large financial donations do not come along often for local governments.

"I also find that bringing in competition softball teams from (out of town) will bring business to our restaurants and to our stores," she said. "It could benefit the community quite a bit."

Leneghan said she was concerned about the costs associated with maintaining the new park, which the township's administration has estimated at about $150,000 annually. The costs include additional labor, fuel and supplies for the township's parks department.

She said she would prefer to see taxpayer dollars spent on additional bike paths, which she said have repeatedly been requested by township and Delaware County residents.

Anderson said improved bike paths at the site are part of the preliminary development plans. He said revenue from a proposed cellphone tower on the site and an endowment established by the athletic association and the donor are among options to help pay for the park's maintenance.

The township has $300,000 in bond funding that can be used only toward the development of the site.

Township Fiscal Officer Mark Gerber said the park will be developed with or without the softball fields, and maintenance costs would be similar in any developed park with bathrooms and ballfields.

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