Gering ready to tackle ballfield project

Last fall, Gering's Calista Muhr connects for a home run in the fifth inning of the Class B-10 District championship game against Scottsbluff at Oregon Trail Park. The Gering High School softball team will be among local youth using the new softball/baseball quad fields complex as construction begins on the project in Oregon Trail Park this summer.

Once the weather warms up, Gering’s softball fields near the municipal swimming pool will undergo a complete remodel to include a concessions/restroom building and four new ball fields.

The total cost of the project is just under $3 million, with two softball and two baseball diamonds configured as a quad field.

Gering City Engineer Annie Folck said the new fields are completely bonded, coming from a special fund for bonding recreation projects. Additional monies are from a sinking fund specifically earmarked for the softball/baseball complex. Plus, the city received a $225,000 grant from the Nebraska Game and Parks Land Water Conservation Fund.

At a Dec. 23, 2019 special meeting, the Gering City Council requested bids for the construction of the ball fields and fencing.

Gering Parks Director Amy Seiler said construction will begin around the end of June, once the baseball and softball teams wrap up their season.

“As soon as play is over, our contractor will get very busy,” Folck said. “The fields need to be finished by fall so we can lay down sod and have it established for next year’s play.”

She added the project is tricky because it’s an existing field. Grading will need to be done and an irrigation system installed before the sod and finish work can get started.

Seiler, who’s also a professional landscaper, said the plant material needs to be installed as soon as possible so it has time to establish as a playing surface by the spring of 2021.

The concession/restroom building is the easiest part of the project. It’s a standard block building, so the contractor could take until the end of 2020 to have it finished.

With quad fields, groups like Gering Organized Baseball and the Gering Girls Softball Organization will have more opportunities to host tournaments. Those bring in both players and parents from around the state for several days of play.

“We’d love to host a state tournament here in the future,” Seiler said. “We could also host district softball tournaments for the schools. This project will allow us to pull economic development from a much larger area.”

The existing softball field used by Gering High School will remain, adding two more softball fields for competition. In addition to the two baseball fields, the softball fields can be temporarily converted for baseball use.

The new quad fields will be used primarily by boys in the 11-12 year old age group for baseball. For girls in the softball program, the age range will go up to high school.

The quad fields are the main recreation project on Gering’s list this year, but other facilities will also need repairs sometime in the future.

One of those venues is the city’s tennis courts. The courts at the high school are owned by the school district, but they partner with the city for resurfacing the maintenance.

Folck said the high school courts are experiencing a lot of wear. But discussions are still underway to identify a funding source to pay for resurfacing.

There are also a tennis courts in Oregon Trail Park. City Council member Dan Smith, who chairs the Recreation Committee, said there has been some discussion about converting the courts for pickleball.

“A group of citizens approached us about pickleball courts,” Smith said. “Because the existing tennis courts are in such disrepair, it might be an option.”

The third venue on the city’s watch list is the municipal swimming pool. Built in the late 1970s, it’s still in overall good condition. Seiler credits that to the city staff that provides excellent maintenance at the facility.

However, the bathhouse is in need of some upgrades.

“The pool’s in good shape but we need to start looking at funding options,” Seiler said. “There will come a time when it will need to be replaced.”

Smith said a sports recreation study done several years ago included an estimate of $2.1 million to replace the pool. “We only have about 10% of that in our sinking fund now,” he said. “We’re quite far away from doing anything financially for the pool.”

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Jerry Purvis is a reporter with the Star-Herald. He can be reached at 308-632-9046 or emailed at jpurvis@starherald.com.

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