PRINCETON — It's a ballpark complex serving hundreds of children every summer. Jack Bishop Park attracts thousands of people to its softball, T-ball and baseball fields.
It's a lot of work, and the number of volunteers are few in number.
The City of Princeton contributes manpower and equipment, fuel and water utility services free of charge to help maintain the privately-owned property on North Richland Creek Drive. Princeton Parks and Recreation Director Brent Denbo said Monday night that he can't find a record of any agreement to provide the service, but learned from talking with others that the city became involved about 20 years ago in the maintenance of the privately owned property at the request of youth league volunteers, who were overwhelmed with the mowing work.
He estimates the city has provided close to $250,000 in free labor, water, fuel and equipment use over 20 years. At Monday night's Princeton Parks & Recreation Board meeting, he told volunteers from the youth leagues involved in the ballpark complex that the city needs to take a look at whether it can continue to contribute at the same level.
League president Brian Douglas asked the parks board to let them know what they're thinking, noting that he had only been told that the city council "wanted to cut us from the budget."
Princeton Common Council Vice President Jan Ballard said the council has not decided to stop helping, but needs to "re-evaluate what we are spending."
Douglas said he's checked with other Little League and softball programs in other communities in the area, and their complexes are maintained by the city.
But Denbo said those facilities are owned by those cities, and the Jack Bishop complex is not city property. "Keep in mind that one of the issues we're facing is that we are maintaining property that does not belong to us," he told volunteers. Denbo said dollars spent on the ballpark come from the city parks and recreation budget, which is for city-owned parks.
Volunteers said the sports complex adds to Princeton's quality of life features and while it may be privately owned, it's a "shoe-string" non-profit that functions through volunteers. The league player fees range from $60 to $90 per single child or $150 family cap for multiple players. Douglas said the leagues waive player fees for families that can't afford it if they're willing to provide in-kind volunteer hours, but the number of volunteers is few. "All the money we're taking in, we're putting right back in" to the park, he said.
"In our opinion, this is the most important park you have, because that's where the kids play," he told the parks board.
"What we want to do is come up with a plan," Denbo told the group, promising the parks board would look at ways to help without pulling so much funding from the city-owned park properties.
At the parks board's first meeting of the year, the board confirmed Mayor Greg Wright's recommendation of Denbo to continue to serve as parks superintendent and confirmed their monthly meetings for 2020 as the second Monday of each month at 5:30 p.m.
Wright reported that he will make an appointment to the parks board by April to fill the vacancy created with the resignation of James Price.
In other business, Denbo said he wants to evaluate more designs for an open-air roofed shelter at Lafayette Park. The council has earmarked $20,000 from the city's Economic Development Income Tax fund for the project in 2020, but Denbo said he wants to look for more proposals.
He suggested that he wants to use the $20,000 to hire a consultant to develop a five-year or 10-year comprehensive plan for the city parks system. Having such a plan in place would help the city qualify for grant funding, he reported.
Parks board members approved using Racer and Cullivan concrete contractors for projects at SouthSide, Lafayette and Lincoln Parks. Denbo said he wants concrete pads poured for benches and tables at Lafayette, for SouthSide bleachers and a concession/utility structure, and table pads at Lincoln.
The board also approved a quote from Raber Portable Storage to build a 12x24 building at SouthSide for storage and concessions, and agreed, pending a discussion with neighbors, to contract with Smart Power Electric for LED lighting at Lincoln Park.