This baseball season could be the year when no one wants to be caught in a storm at the Babe Ruth field, because there will be nowhere to hide. That’s the field at Clearwater Park in New Paltz that’s closest to Route 32, and it’s now the field that doesn’t have any dugouts because they were demolished a few weeks ago. The decision to demolish the structures was made because building inspector Stacy Delarede found them to be unsafe. Local supporters of baseball and softball don’t have a problem with that, but they are crying foul over the fact that they are expected to replace them.
Chris Marx, who oversees buildings and grounds in addition to the highway department, said that it didn’t take much to knock the dugouts down. While a bunch of kids sitting inside might not have done so, just a light tap with an excavator sent one of them sliding off its foundation of dry-laid stone. “I was surprised” by how bad a shape they were in, he said.
Equipment bins created by local builders were removed from the dugouts before the demolition, Marx said, and stored for safekeeping until they can be installed in new structures.
When Tim Messina, president of the New Paltz Baseball and Softball Association, came to the December 7 New Paltz Town Board meeting to talk about the dugouts, Town Supervisor Neil Bettez told him that “historically, dugouts have been built by volunteers,” rather than with tax dollars. Now less than a month away from the start of the season, baseball coach Joseph Indelicato is wondering why that’s the case.
“They knew about the dugouts before the budget was done,” Indelicato said, “but they made no allowance” to pay for new ones. “There should be money put aside for that,” rather than asking volunteers to raise money for the project.
In fact, there is money set aside for such projects; recreation fees are collected from developers when they don’t set aside space to build new facilities. According to Bettez, there is about $50,000 in that fund, but with a sluggish economy that amount isn’t being replenished. That’s why there is now a recreation committee, the members of which are asked to decide which projects should get those limited funds. Prior to its formation last year, funding went to “who asks the loudest,” the supervisor said, or pet projects of a board member or sitting supervisor. The committee members are charged with looking at the big picture and coming up with a multi-year plan that would prioritize projects based on data about community member interest and usage patterns. Such a process will ensure that it’s about community needs rather than advocacy, Bettez believes.
Marx reiterated this week what he said in public last December: concerns about the dugouts were initially raised by recreation director Chuck Bordino, but it was Delarede who made the determination that they were unsafe. They were taken down last month, Marx said, and he’s hoping that whatever is built to replace them will be easier to maintain.
In the end, Indelicato would just like to know that the kids can play ball. “We don’t mind doing it, but it’s got to be planned out better.” He called the process “haphazard,” and added that “they’ve known about it for at least two years, and I don’t think it’s fair” to expect volunteers to fund the replacement in what he feels is a very short amount of time in which to plan. Messina has been asked to come up with a plan, “but that’s [Bordino]’s job.”
Bordino declined to even entertain any questions about when or why he first became concerned about the condition of the dugouts or what made him think they needed a closer look from the building inspector. Bettez was asked if there is any policy restricting comment by town employees to reporters, but instead replied with, “I don’t see why Chuck would be central to the story, in the end it isn’t really his decision,” rather than answering the question.