WESTLAKE — The city is reviewing plans for a proposed $2.3 million renovation to the playing fields behind the Clague Playhouse on Clague Road.
Westlake City Council members and about 50 residents heard discussion about the plans at a council committee meeting Jan. 16 from Westlake Recreation Director Bob DeMinico, city Engineer Bob Kelly and the engineer hired by the city to do the plans, Daniel Kelbach with Osborne Engineering Co’s Sports Design section.
Residents and council raised several issues about the impact of expanding from three to four baseball fields, additional parking and moving activity closer to homes and ongoing drainage issues.
Besides adding a fourth baseball field, plans call for installing new bleachers, bathrooms and a concession stand as well as scoreboards and fencing to protect spectators from being hit by foul balls. The city also wants to add a playground and 66 parking spaces, which would bring the total to 119.
In the fall, the outfield area could be used for soccer and lacrosse practice, city officials said.
DeMinico said the plan evolved following many conversations with members of Westlake's Recreation Commission, boys' baseball association leadership, representatives of Clague Playhouse, Westlake Historical Society and neighboring residents.
The baseball fields are used by boys and girls in kindergarten through fourth grade, or age 10, playing in the Westlake boys baseball association and Westlake girls softball program, both sponsored by the city recreation dept. Older children play at one of the city's other ballparks — Roman Park, Clague Park or Rec 2 — as well as Westlake High School.
Kelly said new storm sewers would resolve drainage issues, which cause frequent cancellations of practices and games due to wet playing fields. He said residents whose properties abut the park will be able to install drainage pipes in their yards, at their expense, to tie into the city's larger storm sewers to help eliminate wet back yards.
Several council members asked whether the baselines could be lengthened in order for older children to use the fields. Kelly explained property boundaries constrained the ability to do that. Others asked whether the plan meets the needs of the community looking into the future.
The questioning was prompted by recent declines in participation. However, DeMinico and audience members representing the boys baseball association said addressing the drainage issues would bring kids back into the program. DeMinico said the age group the fields are planned for is the largest group of participants in the city's baseball program.
Council President Mike Killeen asked whether concessions were necessary, saying there have been challenges staffing the concession stand with reliable volunteers and keeping it clean over the decades he has served on council. DeMinico said local Boy Scout Troop 225 had successfully filled that role for three years and planned to continue to do so, as he turned his head to acknowledge uniformed members of the Troop, some with their fathers, and Troop leaders peppered throughout the audience.
Representatives from Clague Playhouse and Clague Museum, home to Westlake Historical Society, repeated what they claimed are oft-expressed concerns about adequate parking for events during baseball season. Playhouse Board President Richard Lynch said, even with additional spaces, it would be insufficient. He said that for years there has been a scramble for parking when the Playhouse stages a production during baseball season.
Kelly suggested the groups meet to discuss how to best coordinate scheduling of events. One suggestion was that, on dates the Playhouse has a performance, baseball games be scheduled an hour earlier so that players and fans have left before theater patrons arrive.
The city's proposal to remove large trash bins from the area drew a strong reaction from Russ Kilpatrick, head of buildings and grounds at the Playhouse. Kilpatrick acknowledged that others dump illegally at the location, forcing the city to deal with their refuse, but expressed concern about having adequate garbage removal for the theater and neighboring historical society. A suggestion to enclose and lock the area seemed to win nods around the room.
Chuck Clawson, who lives on South Melrose Drive, said he felt "a lot is being shoehorned into a small space." He said if the plan is approved, the edge of his property will be only 15 feet from the field of play. He also asked about the possibility of moving the planned location for one of the scoreboards so it would not be in clear view from his yard.
A similar concern was expressed by resident Jeff Schenk, who lives on Horseshoe Boulevard. He asked whether a few parking spaces could be eliminated to keep a buffer between his yard and city property.
Mallard Circle resident Zane Morgan held up a copy of the 2015 Westlake Parks and Recreation Master Plan and asked if anyone still followed it. He said his two sons, ages 7 and 8, have practiced on Westlake fields only a half dozen times since they started playing baseball. "We have deplorable rec facilities," he said. "I expect excellence."
Jerome Olive, vice president of Westlake Baseball League, said the youth who use Clague Playhouse fields represent the largest demographic of participants in the entire league. "They have the least amount of space to play," Olive said.
When a councilman asked about the relatively small number of kids on a team, he was told it was because parents want to see all kids play during each game.
Westlake Baseball Travel Commissioner Ken Hall said there has been a steady increase in the number of travel teams being fielded. "Fix the fields and the numbers will go up," he told council.
Westlake Planning Commission is to discuss the plan when it meets at 7:30 p.m. Monday in Westlake City Council Chambers, 27700 HIlliard Blvd. The meeting is open to the public.