Dreams of a rehabbed Vernon Park baseball diamond won’t soon become reality

Across Greene Street from the former Germantown Y sits a field in Vernon Park. Specifically, there’s a backstop in front of which children played baseball and softball in days of neighborhood old.

Nobody can seems to put an exact date when exactly this started, maybe a decade or more, but grass was left to grow over the basepaths and games stopped being played.

Officials at the Germantown Life and Enrichment Center (GLEC), which took over the Y, want that to change.

However, they said this week that their efforts to revitalize the field have hit several snags, making it unlikely that their vision will come to fruition any time soon.

The realization

It all started a few months ago when GLEC hired Yomi Awodesu as the new programs director. Awodesu developed a summer program for kids and brought the issue of the field’s withering state to the board.

“The grass is dead, there are potholes and the surface has to be done properly,” he said. “It’s not being put to use properly as it should be.”

Awodesu told the board that the if the field were properly fixed up, he could incorporate it into the summer camp. This is important to him since GLEC has no outdoor fields to the point that it runs its soccer program indoors.

He figured a refurbishing a field owned by the city Department of Recreation would encourage more families to visit the area.

The board agreed that drawing more children to Vernon Park might do the community as a whole some good.

“Years ago, when my son was like 8 years old, they could use it for summer camp activities,” said Connie Bille, GLEC board member. “The whole atmosphere was more welcoming.”

Missed opportunities

Since then, Bille acknowledged that neglect has left the field unlevel and unsuitable for baseball or softball players.

Bille cited other parks that have had success in attracting kids and families, like the Allens Lane Art Center in Mt. Airy which has sufficient lighting and tennis courts that are actually used.

“It keeps the park usage up and kept the park very safe,” she said. “There was a period when the lights were broken. When you went there at night, you’d find crack vials behind the building.

“Any place that is not used, it’s sort of a dark hole and somebody [doing drugs] finds this spot and then other people don’t want to go there.”

Generating support

A resurfaced field, plus better lighting, will draw a crowd to the park, Bille claimed.

“It starts with the little things like ‘let’s fix the field,'” she said, noting that it could spark an effort which brings more family-oriented businesses to the immediate area.

“If we could have a little place open up and sell ice cream, more people would come and sort of hang out for the right reasons,” she continued. “That’s how every community has always revitalized itself, by increasing the positive reasons to go somewhere.”

Bille said she doesn’t expect this to happen anytime soon, though.

Since the city has limited resources, it has to prioritize where its money is spent, and a Germantown park already tended to by volunteers might not look like a promising investment. However, Bille said that is incorrect.

She urged the city should look at possible returns on civic investments.

“Our sense is that this would be hugely beneficial because it could make an impact on the business district, it could make an impact socially,” Bille said, noting that Germantown is generally underserved despite its rich history. “It’s a huge opportunity missed for the entire city. [Vernon Park] is dead center [of Germantown] and the business district needs to be welcoming to visitors.”

Little cause for optimism

Lyn Kuebler, GLEC’s director of administration, said there have been talks with with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. Hurdles have convinced Kuebler that the field can’t get resurfaced this year, though.

Problem No. 1: It isn’t even considered a softball field anymore.

Problem No. 2: It’s too late in the year to get anything done now.

“If it’s going to be done in summer of 2013, then now is probably the time to get it started,” she said.

Kuebler said she was told that another organization, such as Friends of Vernon Park, might be better suited to submit the proposal.

While unaware of GLEC’s vision, Friends of Vernon Park’s Ruth Seeley said they would support any effort to increase the park’s usage.

Problem No. 3: Crossed signals

Kuebler said she was told GLEC would be charged a large sum to use the field. Not so, said Parks and Recreation district manager Eileen Sheridan said.

“Any space that’s used other than [for] youth groups, there is a fee associated with it,” she said, noting it costs $50 for one-time usage and $300 on a one-night-a-week basis. “What the idea was behind this was that we don’t charge youth groups, but we charge adult groups. We use [money collected via fees] to maintain fields.”

Permit fees were established with this year’s Fairmount Park/Recreation Department merger, she said, noting that youth groups need to apply or risk having to clear out for a group which already has one.

Sheridan added that any organization seeking work done on the park will need to apply much sooner so the request can make it through the system in time.

“It has to be brought to our attention before May or June,” she said, noting that requests are prioritized in the winter, and decisions are based on projections related to potential community use. “They start working on this as soon as the weather breaks.”

Cost prohibitive?

Vanessa Braddock, owner of ISIS Supply and Services Co. in Germantown, said it could cost anywhere from $7,500 to $9,500 to have topsoil removed and replaced and subsequent resurfacing work.

Do budgetary constraints mean any such project is a non-starter?

Eighth District City Councilwoman Cindy Bass, who chairs the Committee on Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs, said she shares the neighbors’ and GLEC’s concerns about the condition of Vernon Park.

“City-wide, the demand on parks, recreation facilities, and recreation programs is high at a time when resources are limited,” she said, “and I will work with my colleagues in Council as well as members of the community to help address these problems.”

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