COLUMBIA — Think back to the good ol' days when you were younger and playing little league sports. Where did you play?
It's hard to imagine all the different things that go into finding a place for kids to play. Someone has to not only find the locations but also figure out when they're available and for how long. They have to know who else needs the space and how much it will cost to use it.
Children don't think about that stuff, but Columbia Parks and Recreation Director Mike Griggs does. In Columbia, for example, there isn't enough space to meet the demands for youth basketball.
That's why the city has included a new sports field house tentatively slated for construction at A. Perry Philips Park among the projects it's promising if voters approve a six-year extension of the one-eighth-cent sales tax for parks on the Nov. 3 ballot.
“If I ask people how many gyms, how many basketball courts do you think the city of Columbia owns? People will say 10, 12, 20," Griggs said.
"We own three.”
The field house, which would cost an estimated $4 million, would provide Columbia with four new basketball courts. The Columbia Youth Basketball Association, through a partnership with the Parks and Recreation Department, would get first dibs on the facility, Griggs said.
Two of the city's three basketball courts are at the Activity and Recreation Center. Those are available only to members and can't be used for league play. This really leaves the city with only one public basketball court,which is at the Armory Sports Center downtown, Griggs said.
The Parks and Recreation Department has a good relationship with Columbia Public Schools, Griggs said. Fortunately, this means the Columbia Youth Basketball Association is able to use the schools' gyms when no one else is.
"That's the key," Griggs said. "When they aren't using them."
Building the field house will offer more space, a flexible timetable and more opportunities for Columbia to hold events. Any person or group would have the opportunity to rent the space, and it would be multi-functional , Columbia Youth Basketball Association President Allen Jennings said.
"We've really needed this sports facility for a long time," Griggs said.
Dean Berry, board member and founder of the youth basketball association, said all residents will benefit from having the facility.
Berry said that Columbia can't host big basketball tournaments now but that the ability to do so would draw visitors who will spend money and stay in hotels. That would benefit the entire city, he said.
Griggs agreed. “We host soccer tournaments, we host baseball tournaments, softball tournaments, lacrosse tournaments, Ultimate Frisbee, disc golf," he said. "We host every kind of tournament you can think of, but we can’t host big basketball tournaments because we don’t have the gyms. We don’t have the basketball courts.”
Griggs said the field house also could be used for soccer, tennis or other large events such as conferences.
About 1,000 kids play in the youth basketball league from second grade through high school, Jennings said. Every team plays its games on Saturday, and each has 10 players. That's 100 teams and 50 games every Saturday.
That means every Saturday the basketball association needs 50 time slots. And that's only one sport, putting into perspective how many different groups might need that space on a Saturday, or any other day.
Griggs recalled what a coach told him last winter. The coach played the first Saturday at West Junior High School and the second at New Haven Elementary School. After a bye week, he played the fourth game in a church gym. On the fifth Saturday, his team played an 8 a.m. game at West and a 2 p.m. game at Lange Middle School. He didn't play two weeks in a row at the same spot.
That's what happens when there is limited space, Griggs said. "You have to do a lot of creative scheduling."
Jennings said that as Columbia grows, the field house will help accommodate overflow. As it stands now, the youth basketball league can only guarantee weekly practice times to second- through eighth-grade children. Jennings said high school kids don't get that because of the lack of space.
Jennings said that if voters approve the extended tax, his group will donate the money it has earmarked for similar projects. He did not say how much but said it would be a substantial amount. The basketball league is a not-for-profit organization.
Berry said the association has twice before tried to build a basketball facility but couldn't raise enough money.
"We just aren't good at raising money," Jennings said.
Jacobs Engineering Group, which designed the ARC, came up with the preliminary design for the field house. The four courts that would be part of the sales tax extension represent the first phase of the project. The city would chip in $2.7 million from tax proceeds and hopes to cover the rest of the cost from grants, the youth basketball league donation and other private contributions.
The field house is the most expensive park sales tax project proposed for the next six years. Griggs said it should be finished or at least under construction by 2017 or 2018. The city doesn't borrow against anticipated park sales tax proceeds but spends it as it comes in.
Griggs said he anticipates a year of planning for the project, which would include public hearings. If the project proceeds, long-term plans call for expanding the field house to include two to four more courts.
Any profit the field house makes will automatically be returned to the parks fund, but Griggs said he'll be happy if it just breaks even.
Jennings said he's excited about the possibilities.
"Yeah, I'm like super stoked," he said predicting Columbians will appreciate the field house for many reasons.
"They just need to show up and vote."
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