Dunwoody Senior Baseball officials say they are losing money every day the new west baseball field adjacent to Brook Run Park is not completed and offered to pony up approximately $100,000 over five years to speed up the construction process so it can be open for use by May 20.

The Dunwoody Senior Baseball east field is completed and is being used by for league play. (Dyana Bagby)
The west field is still under construction. City officials say significant rainfall this year has resulted in delays in finishing the field. (Dyana Bagby)

But the approximately $100,000 needed to install soil cement that would allow construction and installation of the artificial turf on the field, which is saturated by recent heavy rainfalls, would first need to come out of taxpayer funds. The mayor and City Council said they were unwilling to make that commitment.

“Our primary responsibility is to the tax payers and our focus has to be on the long term,” Councilmember Terry Nall said at the City Council’s April 23 meeting. “This [project] is for a short term gain of about 30 days just to accelerate one season of play. I appreciate the offer to pay the money over five years, but are we representing the taxpayers or a nonprofit program?”

Added Mayor Denis Shortal, “I realize the fields are late, but I also realize Mother Nature is a tough character.”

Parks & Recreation Director Brent Walker explained to the council April 23 that heavy rainfall has slowed construction on the baseball fields adjacent to Brook Run Park and to Peachtree Charter Middle School.

Original plans were to have both baseball fields — the east and west fields — completed by Feb. 2, in time for Dunwoody Senior Baseball middle school league play.

That date came and went, with the east field eventually opening in mid-March. Dunwoody Senior Baseball treasurer John Crawford said not having a second field is costing the league about $5,000 to $8,000 a month to rent baseball fields in cities such as Brookhaven and Doraville.

“We’ve already spent $20,000 on field rentals this year,” Crawford said. “Those fields are very important to us that we are willing to be on the hook for the $100,000 … this is how much we care about the issue.”

Walker told the council the other option is to simply wait for warmer, dryer weather to allow the soil to dry naturally. With about two weeks of dry weather, the contractor could then begin to install a drainage pipe and the artificial turf, he said.

“If we’re relying on Mother Nature,” Crawford said, “then we may not have this field done until July. And what if we keep having more rain? Without the soil cement we don’t know when the fields will get done.” He noted that the longer the delay, the chance exists that PCMS students won’t be able to use the field either.

Councilmember Lynn Deutsch said rarely do construction projects finish on time. In this case, she said, a year from now, the delay will only be a memory.

“But if we spend $100,000 to expedite the construction, the money is gone forever,” she said. “I share Dunwoody Senior Baseball’s disappointment and perhaps frustration, but I can’t justify spending money for the short term when we have so many other needs.”

In an interview after the meeting, Crawford said he was surprised the city didn’t agree to have the league pay for the soil cement over five years. The new field that is being used is “incredible,” he said, and kids love playing on it. The middle school league that just wrapped up had 38 teams, including four from PCMS, with boys from Dunwoody playing on many of the other teams.

Construction of the baseball fields’ concession stand is expected to be completed in the next few weeks. The city must still also build batting cages and bullpens and install netting to keep foul balls from flying into neighboring streets.

“We just want to get the other field done so we can get on with the business of playing baseball,” Crawford said.

Dunwoody Senior Baseball President Jerry Weiner said in an interview he is frustrated with the progress. He said after the east field was completed in March, the city promised it just needed another two weeks to finish the west field.

Weiner said he understands the city can’t control the weather, but the fields were promised to be finished in February.

“We believed and trusted the city,” he said. “The point is now we don’t know when the field will be ready.”

Weiner said he promised teams last year that the fields would be ready, but the constant delays has damaged Dunwoody Senior Baseball financially and also hurt its reputation.

“We’ve missed our middle school league with one field [finished this month], and it looks we’ll miss our spring and recreation league [starting in late April] and we don’t know what will happen with the Memorial Day tournament we put on,” he said.

Construction of the fields has not been managed from the beginning, Weiner said, and he was also disappointed the city did not take up the league’s offer to pay for the soil cement over a five-year period.

“We appreciate everything the city has done for us. We’re just disappointed the city has not honored their commitment to us,” he said.

Cost for the two new baseball fields totals about $6.2 million. The original costs for the fields came in at $4.3 million before the council agreed artificial turf should be installed, adding more than $1 million to the price tag. The council eventually agreed to spend up to $5.7 million.

The new fields are being built on property once belonging to Peachtree Charter Middle School. They are replacing the fields in Dunwoody Park used by Dunwoody Senior Baseball for more than 40 years that were sold as part of a land swap to the DeKalb County Board of Education for the construction of a new Austin Elementary School. The new school is under construction and slated to open in the fall of 2019.

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.