By Trevor Busch
Although town council’s May 9 resolution to release funds and allow the Baseball-Softball Enhancement Society to move construction forward on a fourth ball diamond at Ken McDonald Memorial Sports Park was rescinded last week, discussion at the special meeting had touched on the scope of the project and its original intent.
In 2018, the project was reviewed by the Taber Recreation Board and later presented to council, and following deliberations for the 2019 capital budget, council had approved $250,000 for the construction of a fourth ball diamond at KMMSP.
In April 2019, the rec board had signed off on a plan to allow M.D. of Taber volunteers to begin the preliminary dirt work at the site, but asked for further information to be presented with regard to the society’s budget and actual costs before taking more action. In May, the society had presented a budget to the rec board while requesting council “meet at their earliest convenience” or hold a special meeting to approve funds for the project.
At the same meeting, administration was seeking direction from council with regard to how to “move this project forward given the past intent and the current context of the project.” Concerns had also arisen among council and administration that the society’s intent in completing the fourth ball diamond had drifted into the consideration of multiple projects not specifically associated with the diamond itself.
“We’ve had Ken Mac sports field for over 20 years as an uncompleted place for all of our user groups to use,” said society president Suzanne Peters on May 9. “We have to haul out porta-potties every year, there’s no shade. It’s just not a desired location in town for user groups to use. Baseball and softball is one of the user groups that’s actually using it at all ages… it’s not just to complete the one diamond in our vision. And this is why we formed the society. If we just want to do the one diamond, that’s I guess your guy’s decision, but we’re looking at the bigger picture to finish this facility that’s been sitting there unfinished for over 20 years.”
According to a Stantec Engineering report from May 2015 included as part of the May 9 meeting’s agenda package, construction of a fourth diamond was expected to cost $382,311.75, consisting of $14,500 for overall site preparation, $254,145 for field construction, $38,800 for the stadium area, and $25,000 in consulting fees.
Information in a May 2019 phase one project budget from the society indicates that various donations and discounted quotes have significantly reduced costs from previous estimates. According to the society’s numbers, for spring work currently underway the Municipal District of Taber has contributed $48,000 in ground work, while other quotes for hydro seed have come in at $7,000 (previous quote $63,480 for sod), $28,471 for fencing (previous quote $68,000), and sprinklers $6,500 (previous quote $50,000). This totals $41,971 (previous combined quotes $120,280).
Planned summer work includes shale (estimated at $63,000), drainage tile and geo-textile $4,700 (previous quote $20,640), dugouts (estimated at $12,000), bleachers and gravel pads (estimated at $18,000), jock box (estimated at $1,200), and bases and home plate (estimated at $5,000). This would result in $145,817 spent from the town’s previously allocated.
“You made a comment about doing more than just the fourth diamond,” said Coun. Joe Strojwas. “It’s my understanding we allocated $250,000 specifically to complete that diamond. Now it’s my understanding you want to change the goalposts on that?”
Society treasurer Rick Popadynetz responded that the group’s intention was to push forward with multiple projects as part of a phase two development.
“What we want to do — and we brought it to your attention last year at the March 26 meeting, and you guys agreed to move forward with this project. We’re moving forward, and we’re going to save money, but we want to roll that money into the next phase where we can maybe connect a sewer line through into our concession into bathrooms out there, and showers for the park. The football association is interested in helping out and working with us to put water to their facilities to make their concession a little bit better. The other thing would be to connect sewer to the air cadet hall to offset the cost of a sump program, to have guys coming in to suck out the sewage and septic tanks.”
“So we want to roll that money that we’ve saved from that $250,000 into our phase two, and then if we have however much funding from our sponsorship, we’d like to keep rolling that money so we can get more done, a bigger bang for your buck.”
Strojwas immediately questioned if the public funds that had been approved by the town were being applied to the project for which they had been allocated by council.
“I appreciate your foresight in wanting to move, but the funds — the way I understand it — were specifically committed to the completion of that fourth diamond. If it’s going to go further than that, and we’re going to start putting other infrastructure in there, I think council needs to re-evaluate the commitment that they made for that $250,000, because I don’t think you can just take money and allocate it to a different project, because that project was project-specific for that fourth diamond.”
Coun. Louie Tams agreed.
“I understood it exactly the same way that Councillor Strojwas does, the $250,000 was earmarked for the completion of a fourth diamond. I think we need to concentrate on that first before we move ahead with anything further, because now we’re taking on a different project.”
Peters had reiterated her position that the society’s goals include finishing much more than the fourth ball diamond.
“I agree with you completely,” said Strojwas. “I suggest that you go back to your society and draw up plans — your vision for the future — and make a presentation to the rec board and come back for a different kind of funding. I don’t think we can cross-reference on this, I really don’t. I understand fully that it needs to be completed out there, but we need to do it in a progressive manner, we just can’t allocate funds for infrastructure and different things. I would suggest very heartily to you folks that you finish this fourth diamond with the funds that you’ve got — and you’ve done an excellent job, because I’ve seen the projections from back in 2015 — but I think you should proceed, finish this project and then come back with a separate proposal.”
Popadynetz replied that had always been the intention of the group.
“That’s exactly what we had planned. So we’re on the same page with that. But if we come in under budget, rather than taking those funds and moving it to a different project, we’d like to — as a sign of good faith — hold on to that funding, whatever is left, and use it on phase two.”
Referencing Popadynetz’s past history as a town councillor, Strojwas pointed out that council needs to review the funds before any further action is taken.
“I fully understand what you’re doing, and you’re doing a great thing here. But you’ve sat on this side of the table and you know the funds have to come back to council, and council will have to re-evaluate those funds as to where they’re going. But I would support a rollover of that money in the future.”
Intervening on the side of the group, Coun. Carly Firth viewed the rollover request as reasonable considering the cost savings involved with the project from the town’s perspective.
“I think because we’ve already budgeted that $250,000, it only makes sense to keep that money in — you’ve been responsible enough to be able to do it for significantly less than what was budgeted before.”
Coun. Garth Bekkering agreed with Strojwas on the issue.
“Regarding phase two, or the balance of the funds that might be left over, I agree… that money can’t just be thrown around the way you wish, it has to come back to council and we have to proceed from there. Because it is different infrastructure.”
Coun. Mark Garner was also hesitant to make any commitments about rolling over unused funds until council has a chance to review those figures.
“We’re talking two different breeds of cat here. One is with infrastructure, when you start dealing with pipelines and sewage and that kind of thing, I don’t think we have the expertise, or your group has the expertise to do that. I am definitely in favour of giving a full green light to finish off what you wanted to finish, but I think we have to review that before we proceed to the next step. They’re all baby steps, we just have to get to step one before we get to step two, and step three.”
Betraying a degree of frustration with this line of discussion, Peters again outlined that the organization intends to complete more than just the fourth diamond at the park.
“I feel like as a society, trying to help get this diamond built at decreased cost to the town, is that we’re doing all this extra work so that we were hoping to complete the whole park, not just the diamond. For us to continue on as volunteers to save the town money to get this done, it kind of loses the purpose of what our organization is doing this for.”
Coun. Louie Tams attempted to explain the situation from the perspective of council and the taxpayers they represent.
“I hear what you’re saying, and council is not saying no. Council is saying is what we have in front of us is the cost factors for stage one to build a fourth diamond quad, and your estimates are there. But the estimates for the rest of it aren’t there. I can speak only for myself, it’s not that we’re opposed, but there’s proper steps that we have to take. It’s not even our money, it’s the taxpayer’s money, and we’re entrusted to spend that money properly. We don’t have the ability as a town council — as much as we might like to say here’s a blank cheque, go get it done because we know you do a great job — but we’re entrusted with that money on behalf of the citizens of the town, so for us to just say here’s phase one, and we’re going to guarantee you phase two, I think we need to have phase two in front of us.”
Administration’s recommended motion, to accept the information provided by the Baseball-Softball Enhancement Society and request administration provide supplementary information and deliberation in closed session at council’s May 13 meeting, was declined by council, while the actual resolution passed on May 9 releasing funds for the project would be rescinded following in camera discussion on May 13.
Administration would also highlight the “increase in service level with the addition of a fourth diamond” as well as the development of the diamond requiring “additional staff resources for the coordination of the project.”