City Council to hear public comment on Rainbow Softball Center improvements

Tuesday, October 4, 2011 | 8:03 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA – A planned renovation of the Rainbow Softball Center in Cosmopolitan Park will include bigger dugouts, new infield surfaces and new scoreboards to improve safety and playability. The city also hopes to make Rainbow's six softball diamonds more attractive and to reduce maintenance costs.

People interested in the renovation can go to a public hearing during the next City Council meeting on Oct. 17.

One major item of the $200,000 renovation is the upgrade of 12 existing dugouts. The project would expand them to four times their current size, bringing them to 504 square feet each, as opposed to 125 square feet, according to a memo to the City Council from Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hood.

"In the past, 10 to 11 players in a team shared gloves or bats, but now they have their own bat bags," parks services manager Mike Griggs said, adding that the department wants to accommodate players' changing habits.

The new dugouts would have three entrances as opposed to only one that has to be accessed from the infield. Of the three new entrances, two would face the infield and the other would allow players to leave the diamond.

The entrances also would be moved, Griggs said. In the current dugouts, entrances are aligned with first base and third base, which means errant throws can sometimes enter the dugouts.

John Fisher, who plays first base for Last Call, hailed the dugout upgrade.

"Adding entrances is a great idea," he said in an excited voice. "When you play in summer, it's 100 degrees hot, and if you get dry, you don't have time to run across the field to get water from concessions."

The dugouts' benches and roofs also would be renovated. New benches would feature extra space in the back for placing equipment, and the existing flat roofs would be replaced by sloped ones.

The upgrade of the infield material is also an important change. Although the composition of the old dusty surface will not be dramatically changed, it will be replaced by better soil to improve playability, improve drainage and decrease the number of rainouts, Griggs said.

Tanner Burton, manager of the Hallsville Boys, said the old surface is too hard and dusty and should be replaced as it might hurt players, especially children. He also suggested the outfields be renovated because the surface has low spots that can hold water from rainy days.

Parks and Recreation also plans to remove the current foul lines, which are wooden planks buried in the ground and painted white. They are 30 years old, and some have rotted, Griggs said. The foul lines would be replaced by turf that will be painted weekly.

Fisher embraced the new foul lines as well, saying they could improve players' safety. Players can trip over the wooden foul lines while trying to catch balls, he said.

Cody Luke of the Farmhouse softball team said he was impressed by the current facilities and had nothing to complain about. But he added that "it's always good every time we improve safety."

Other planned improvements include:

  • New LED scoreboards to cut future energy and maintenance costs.
  • New backstop fencing and shade screening to protect players' vision from the setting sun and spectators from foul balls.
  • A yellow fence crown on the outfield fences for player protection and new maintenance gates to replace the current failing gates.

The renovation project is the result of both staff and public input. In April, about 93 people attended interested party meetings and reached consensus on the proposed improvements. Parks and Recreation conducted a survey in July and August that generated 275 respondents.

The renovation is scheduled to start in November, at the end of the fall softball season, and will finish before the spring 2012 season.

Contractors will install all the backstop and dugout fencing, and park staff will demolish the old fencing and do other parts of the work.

The $200,000 price will come from the recreation user fees.

An increasing number of nice sports fields are being built, and the improvements can help Rainbow keep up with the newest complexes, Griggs said.

Burton said the renovation could draw more people to the softball center. He said some teams stay away from Columbia because they believe the price for league play is too high.

"There are many good softball fields in Jefferson City. To compete with them, every improvement is good in getting more people involved," Burton said. "It's also good for attracting big teams and adding more revenue."

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