Softball complex proceeds in face of local opposition

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By: Grace Baranowski <[email protected]>

Almost a month ago, on April 28, the Carmel Clay School Board approved the plan to improve the softball fields at Cherry Tree Elementary School. Now, said superintendent of schools Barbara Underwood, “We’re proceeding. We’re in the process of getting permits from the city, reviewing architect plans and putting it out to bid.”

The plan originally included four completely fenced softball fields, according to Kevin Kultgen, president of the Avian Glen Homeowners’ Association, but now the plan only involves three. Four softball fields already exist, two being already fenced. With the plan, an additional field will be fenced. A 5,000-square-foot concession stand will stand in the middle of the four fields. Underwood said that as development will reduce available green space, the school board has decided to install underground water reservoirs to level out the swampy area in the north playground. The saved water will be used to irrigate the softball complex. Grass will be planted by Sep. 15, and new bleachers and asphalt will be included in the plans.

But Underwood said, “It’s still not without its distractions.” According to her, an upgraded softball field is something the board has discussed “for a number of years. It’s a huge undertaking because of the people that have interest in it.”

And many people do. Kultgen represents the neighborhood built around Cherry Tree and its softball complex. He said, “There are two general reasons for the opposition to the complex.” One includes the negative effect on the neighborhood, such as the noise and traffic involved with increased games. “The second, and more important reason, is the adverse effects the construction and the change of green space will have on the elementary kids,” he said. “The school administration has promised relocation/new playground space to offset the loss that the complex will cause. However, none of these playground issues have been included in the original $2.5 million budget for the new softball complex. Cherry Tree parents are concerned about these playground improvements actually becoming reality.”

Roger McMichael, assistant superintendent for business affairs, school board president Stephen Backer and Underwood have met with parents “to review plans and see what we can address,” said Underwood. “We always expect that our community is interested. There has been a lot of misinformation shared among parents. When you have misinformation, it makes it different to provide information.”

Kultgen said, “The administration keeps using the word ‘upgrade.’ The fenced varsity and (junior varsity) fields were the only two original high school softball fields. The two unfenced fields were quietly added later. To us it’s brand-new construction. They’re taking what is currently two fenced fields and making it three or four. We did buy our houses close to two fenced softball fields, but now they’re proposing three or four fenced softball fields, so it’s much bigger in our opinion.”

But, according to Underwood, the softball fields were there before the neighborhood was. “When Cherry Tree and the softball complex were built, there were no neighbors,” she said. “The neighborhood built up around the school. Understandably, though, they’re interested because the elementary school is in their back yard.”

Referencing the original plan to build four additional softball fields at Prairie Trace Elementary School, Underwood said, “Cherry Tree people have already lived with the softball complex. They originally thought it was moving, but now they realize it won’t.” Underwood stressed that the work on the fields “will make it significantly better for the neighbors,” as the architects will reorient the fields to face away from the houses and include new technology to direct sound and light to the field.

Even though Erika Petruzzi, a pitcher on the varsity softball team and junior, won’t get to play on the upgraded softball fields—she’ll miss it by a year, the plans do affect her. She won’t have a home field. While the school system upgrades the complex, she said that the team would probably play at Wodock Field behind Carmel Elementary School. Petruzzi said, “Right now, (the current complex is) kind of nasty. (The parents) reacted the way they felt they needed to. I understand where they’re coming from. But we need a new complex, and we need it done fast.”