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City sticks with baseball society on field project

The Medford City Council voted unanimously Thursday to leave management of a controversial baseball field project with the Medford Youth Baseball Society.

The council followed staff recommendations to continue the contract with the baseball group, but require it to terminate its existing construction contract and seek new bids.

I'm very excited about this opportunity to continue to work with the city, said Gary Miller, president of the baseball society.

Site preparation and design work for a new baseball field at the Medford Sports Park on Highway 99 was halted earlier this month after an ironworkers union representative complained to the city that there had not been a competitive bidding process for the project.

In July, &

36;2.3 million from Jackson County's sale of Miles Field in south Medford was awarded to the society, a nonprofit corporation created to build, support and maintain youth baseball fields in the city.

— The money came from the sale of the property to Wal-Mart for a total of &

36;8 million last June. Demolition of Miles Field, which was on the property, began in September.

The agreement called for the society to build a new field at the 132-acre sports park on Highway 99 across from Bear Creek Corp.

The field was scheduled to be built by this summer, but the city halted the project saying the society did not follow bidding requirements when it awarded the construction contract to Batzer, Inc. without a public bid.

On Thursday, the council considered terminating the agreement with the society and turning management of the project over to the city.

While the city staff recommended against making that move, City Manager Mike Dyal said several safeguards should be included in the new agreement. Those included that the city be involved in putting out a bid request for a new contract, that the society receive confirmation from the council before awarding the contract and that the city hire a temporary employee to oversee construction and paperwork for the project.

Brian Sjothun, director of the city Parks and Recreation Department, proposed the solution. He told the council that continuing to work with the organization and the plan already in place would help minimize further delays.

We could save two months on the construction process, he said. It also will pretty much assure us that we will have a field in place by spring 2006.

Miller said no baseball games will be played at the new field this summer, but despite that he was pleased with the decision.

Brett Wolfe, head baseball coach at North Medford High School, said it's important that Miller and the other volunteers will still manage the project.

That vision is still the same, he said.

But the decision didn't solve the immediate field availability problems, because North and South Medford high schools' fields are already tightly scheduled. Wolfe said coaches are approaching other nearby cities about field usage.

He said in an average year, 55 youth players sign up for his school's teams, but this year the number dropped to 37. Those not playing told him they were worried about the lack of fields for all the teams.

Dan Ratty, a Babe Ruth league coach, said he, too, was pleased with the decision. But he said this summer will be difficult for teams looking for playing space.

We're out of baseball fields, he said.

It's unknown at this point whether local Babe Ruth teams will be able to play on their field in the upcoming season, according to Gary Leaming, Oregon Department of Transportation project information coordinator.

ODOT is currently negotiating right-of-way purchase of the property on Center Drive from Jackson County, and plans to eventually demolish the field to make room for the new south Medford freeway interchange.

Wal-Mart required Miles Field to be demolished as part of the real estate agreement, even though they do not have approval to build a supercenter at the site at this point. Ratty said he hopes the same thing doesn't happen with the Babe Ruth fields.

We're in a wait-and-see mode, he said.

Bill Batzer said that Batzer, Inc. plans to submit a bid for the ballfield project.

The council also approved payment of the amount owed to contractors, which totals &

36;248,559 to date.

Reach reporter Meg Landers at 776-4481 or e-mail .