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Funding problems for baseball and softball turf projects

A plan to modernize Philomath High School's baseball and softball fields by installing artificial turf and various other improvements has progressed more slowly than expected because organizers were unable to obtain the necessary grants.

Levi Webber, the veteran Warriors baseball coach who is leading the initiative, said the group has reviewed its fundraising strategy and remains confident the money is there to make the project a reality.

“Obviously we knew it wasn't going to be an easy project, but I think it's turned out to be a lot harder than we thought, and the main reason for that is finding a lot of funding opportunities that we thought would be there,” Webber said Wednesday morning. “It's really, really hard to get funding for this type of project.”

The project was originally estimated to cost around $600,000. Revised figures put it at $525,000 to $550,000, with plans for a new outfield and fencing around the baseball field eliminated.

Webber pointed to two main factors that make it difficult for the Philomath Baseball Association to be considered for a grant – the location of the fields on school property and the demographics of the community. He said if the project were located in a city park, for example, the chances of receiving a grant would be better “just because of the way some of the grants are worded.” And when it comes to demographics, communities with tougher economic conditions are at the top of the list for such opportunities.

“So we don't meet many of those criteria and that means there's less money available for the kind of projects we want to do here,” Webber said. “But that doesn't mean the project is impossible. We're in the process of looking at funding right now.”

Webber expressed his hope that 35 to 50 percent of the total funds needed for the project would come from grants.

This image illustrates the planned changes to Stephenson Field. (Image provided by Levi Webber)
The softball field would get a new guest dugout and scoreboard and add bullpens. (Image provided by Levi Webber)

“It just means we're trying to reach out to the community a little more than we had hoped or planned, but I think it's out there,” he said. “It's just a matter of finding the right people who are passionate about helping youth baseball and softball and the community.”

Another challenge is that people are being asked for money from all sides. Other organizations need more money for their purposes than ever before, and local households and businesses may have less disposable income in difficult economic times.

“It's unfortunate, but I don't see it as an impossibility for the project. It just makes it a little more difficult than we originally expected,” Webber said.

Last summer, Webber hoped the project would begin after the 2024 baseball and softball seasons.

“We're definitely not on schedule to where we wanted to be at this point,” Webber said. “We had hoped we would be further along in the process and able to start construction … but we're obviously not there yet.”

In fact, Webber estimates that financially, the project is probably between a third and a half of the amount needed. He said the Philomath Baseball Association has received about $210,000 in cash and in-kind donations.

“We're still working on it,” Webber said. “We have a big stack of letters that we're going to send out to local businesses that we either contacted first or that we've expressed interest to … so we're going to keep pushing to get there and hopefully get more support from the township and the surrounding community.”

In the meantime, costs continue to rise.

“The biggest amount that will go up as a result is the cost of the turf,” Webber said. “I haven't contacted our turf supplier who could help us with that to see what the cost is… it's definitely going up, nothing is going to be cheaper, that's for sure.”

Wet weather and its impact on field conditions are often a problem during baseball and softball season. (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Webber has previously outlined how artificial turf fields would improve baseball and softball programs by reducing rain-related game cancellations, increasing on-field practice and providing additional opportunities for player development despite the region's wet spring weather.

The baseball field would have turf installed from the back of the infields to the back of the backstops, including foul territory. Other improvements to the baseball field would include reworking the bullpens, creating a spectator berm for fans, and solving a drainage problem in the outfield.

As mentioned, the original proposal called for a new fence for the entire ballfield, but Webber decided to hold off on that part of the project.

“The only fence we're adding now is where we're moving the bullpens,” he said, referring to a plan to move the bullpens along the free throw lines to give spectators a better view closer to the court.

Improvements to the softball area beyond the field include adding bullpens, building a new dugout and storage shed for the visiting team, installing a new scoreboard, and installing drainage for the junior team's field.