MURRAY — A little more than a week after the Building and Planning Committee of the Murray-Calloway County Park Board met to discuss the park system’s pool, it came together to discuss baseball lighting.
However, as Tuesday’s meeting continued and Murray-Calloway Parks Director Ryan Yates produced figures of between $1.1 million and $2.2 million to replace the light poles at the ballfields of both Central and Chestnut parks, the elephant in the room finally emerged.
“What we’re going to have to do is start raising money,” said Park Board Chairman Jason Lovett Wednesday, immediately recognizing that the task ahead is a daunting one. In order to handle the major needs of the park system as they stand now — including renovating/replacing the Murray-Calloway County Pool in Central, replacing the ball field lighting, infrastructure repairs and paving Gil Hopson Drive that runs through Central — will require in the neighborhood of $4 million.
“That is to fix up everything real good, not just to patch things up the way we’ve been going,” Lovett said. “The problem is we know the city and the county (who both own the park) don’t have that and we don’t either. We know that to do this is going to take time, but that’s what’s going to be needed.”
Recent studies show that several of the lights at the ballfields are below the standard recommended for players in the field to be able to properly see balls the batters hit in the air at night. While repairs have been made the past few years, with burned-out bulbs being replaced, Lovett said there is an even bigger problem lying on the very near horizon.
“There’s a reason you don’t see everyone in town driving 1970s cars these days. It’s not economically feasible because parts are hard to find now. It’s the same with these lights,” he said. “We’re talking about lights that, in some cases, are 40 years old or more, and it’s getting harder and harder to find the parts needed for them.
“At some point, they’re not going to be available.”
Yates said he has obtained two bids for new lighting. One is from the well-known Musco Lighting Co. of Oskaloosa, Iowa that has provided lighting for numerous major-league outdoors sports venues throughout the country. That resulted in two bids, both above $2 million.
The other bid is from Techline Sports Lighting of Austin, Texas and that was for $1.1 million.
“The difference in those bids is that Techline said they could use our existing poles,” Yates said. “What Musco is wanting to do is put in entirely new poles and in different places.
“It also must be noted that about $429,000 of those bids is specifically for the Bee Creek soccer complex, where we could have four of those fields given lights, where they don’t have that now.’
Lovett also said an estimate has been received for paving Gil Hopson Drive, which begins at the Central entrance off Arcadia Circle, then cuts through the center of that park before ending at a large parking lot that connects to the pool and the Playhouse in the Park. The figure on that was about $500,000.
Lovett also said Wednesday that a final report from the Water Technology Inc. of Texas is expected to be received within the next four weeks. That firm has produced three possible plans, ranging from the least expensive (between $750,000 to $900,000) to the most expensive option ($2.2 million to $2.5 million).
No action was taken Tuesday, Lovett said.
“The biggest thing we’re trying to do out of that is get a discussion started,” he said. “This is stuff that’s been a problem for a long, long time and it’s time to fix it instead of just talking about it.”
Yates said one item discussed Tuesday was the formation of a committee to specifically look into fundraising. He said that will include several Park Board members, but he also said community and business leaders will be asked to be part of that as well.
Yates, who came to Murray more than two years ago from City of Owensboro Parks & Recreation, also said that he would like to take a page from the Owensboro book that was turned a few years ago. He said Owensboro officials asked a Louisville consulting firm to perform a top-to-bottom examination of the overall parks system, including every facility.
He said that examination took nearly a full year.
“But they didn’t just look at the facilities and ballfields. They went so far as to look at things like weather pattens and how they affect events,” said Yates, whose plan to return Murray to being a major baseball/softball tournament magnet has been derailed continuously by rainouts. “What they’re looking at is if you should even try doing that, because if you have a rainout on a Friday, that can still wipe out the rest of the weekend, even though the rain was long gone.
“What they did was suggest to Owensboro that they start going to turf fields (as opposed to natural grass) because that drains better and you can play more. I talked with someone up there about this a little while back and he said that while it does cost a lot, they will make that money back in four years.
“We spent $8,000 for (WTI) to look at the pool this year, we need to see about doing this for the park as well.”
Yates said the reason is simple.
“Confirmation of what we already know,” he said. “I hate to throw money at something, but if spending some results in someone who knows what they’re doing telling you that maybe you don’t need to spend $2 million on something because it’s not used enough, or that you need to put more into something because it is one of the most popular parts of the park, I’d think it’s worth it.
“What I like right now is that this is the most these issues have been discussed since I became director. I think people are starting to get the message that these are things we’ve got to do.”