by Melanie Nickel / Special to the OB Rag
There may be major changes coming to the baseball field at Dana Middle School, but it’s not a sure thing yet. There are a lot of unanswered questions, and the changes have not yet been approved by the City.
The impetus is a proposal from David Wells, Point Loma High School class of 1982. Wells is one of Point Loma High School’s best known graduates, having pitched a perfect game for the New York Yankees in 1998. (The Yankees’ only previous perfect game was also pitched by a PLHS graduate, Don Larsen, in the 1956 World Series.) Wells went to the World Series in 1992 as a relief pitcher for the victorious Toronto Blue Jays, after which he made a major donation to the athletic programs at PLHS.
Last year Wells came forward with an offer to donate $100,000 to upgrade the PLHS baseball field, which is actually located at Dana Middle School. The proposal would bring the field up to a near-professional standard. Wells said he would also serve at PLHS as an assistant pitching coach. Local baseball backers were enthusiastic.
A complication: the 3-acre Dana baseball field and an adjacent 2.5-acre softball field are currently under a “joint use agreement” with the City of San Diego’s park and recreation department, so that they are open to the community when PLHS or Dana are not using them.
The joint use agreement has been in place since 1994, when Dana was a school district office building. Under the joint use agreement, local youth and adult leagues can reserve the fields through the City for a nominal charge, and the rest of the time the fields are available as public park.
The upgrade proposal would withdraw the baseball field from the joint use agreement and turn its control and maintenance back over to the school district. That part of the proposal has been controversial.
Last November the Board of Education unanimously approved the idea, and ordered District staff to work with the city to withdraw the baseball field from the joint use agreement.
However, the City of San Diego Park and Recreation Department recommended against this change, since it would remove the field from the area’s public recreation facilities, and the Peninsula already falls short of City standards for the amount of park and recreation space its population should have.
In February of this year the idea was brought to the Ocean Beach Recreation Council, which has jurisdiction over the Dana ballfields. The meeting was attended by dozens of baseball parents and the baseball coach, urging approval of the change, but the Rec Council members were troubled.
The David Wells proposal was verbal and there was nothing in writing, including who would pay for the increased maintenance cost of the upgraded field and for how long. There was conflicting information about whether the field would still be available to the public or to organized leagues if it was withdrawn from the joint use agreement. The upshot was that one Rec Council member voted against the proposal and four others abstained, saying there was not enough information provided to make a decision.
In March the proposal came before the Peninsula Community Planning Board, which voted unanimously to support it. They liked the idea of an improved field and did not see any difference between the City and District in making the field available for public use.
On Thursday, May 16, the proposal was heard by the City’s Park and Recreation Board, an eleven-member volunteer advisory board to the city. At that meeting it was revealed that the school district does not make high school football or baseball fields available to the public; when not in use by the school they are kept locked.
It was also stated that the cost for a group to rent a baseball field from the school district is $46.50 per hour, plus $34.00 per hour for a district employee to be on site, so that a four-hour game would cost over $300. In contrast, the city charges only $20 per team for an entire season for youth leagues, and $131 per team per season for adult leagues.
At that meeting a suggestion was made to mitigate the withdrawal of the baseball field from public use, by setting up a new joint use agreement with another school. Board members liked that idea, and school district representatives said they would look into it.
The Park and Recreation Board voted to table the issue until a future meeting. They said they wanted to see the Wells proposal in writing, and they wanted staff to explore the idea of an additional joint use agreement to make up for the loss of the field. They also wanted the OB Recreation Council to review any revised proposal. The issue will eventually return to the Park and Recreation Board for a recommendation, and will ultimately be decided by the City Council.