BIG HORN — New athletic fields could open in Big Horn this year, perhaps in time for a full summer of activities. The fields will provide additional practice space for local sports teams, including baseball, softball, football and soccer.
The Sheridan County School District 1 recreation board has committed $150,000 toward the construction of a baseball field and multi-use field measuring 60 by 30 yards.
The newly formed Big Horn Baseball Club will oversee bidding and construction for the fields that will be located on undeveloped land south of the Big Horn High School football field.
Last month, the SCSD1 board of trustees approved the construction of new facilities on the property. The estimated construction costs will total $542,000, most of which — approximately $513,000 — will be used to pay for turf on both fields. The organization will not have to pay for land, dugouts or a scoreboard; earthwork is also being done at about a 90 percent discount by Mullinax Incorporated.
During a meeting Tuesday night, the rec district board said it wanted to receive more information — such as written commitments from businesses and donors and signed petitions from Big Horn community members expressing their favor regarding the project — from the BH Baseball Club before finalizing six-figure funding.
In addition to likely funding from the recreation district, the project will mostly be funded through private donations, grants and in-kind labor. The school district will not have to pay for anything but will have final approval of the project.
The BH Baseball Club has a six-person board of directors, with Jay Martinson as president and Stephanie Martinson as vice president. All of the board members have children who attend Big Horn Elementary School and wanted to provide additional spaces for practices. Currently, most teams practice on land between BHE and BHHS next to the school parking lot.
“Our kids are at the age of playing baseball and soccer and football and softball and everything and there’s nowhere to do it,” Jay Martinson said. “We can’t find field space. They’re playing catch with parents picking up their kids behind and buses on the other side and storm drains and rain gutters and everything else. There’s no space out there that’s flat and level for the kids to play.”
The Martinsons had been thinking about the idea since early 2018 and began acting on it around September.
Original plans only included a baseball field, but they have received more in-kind donations than initially anticipated, which has helped potentially fund the multi-sport field.
“There’s a lot of interest in the elementary school right now in athletics and extracurricular activities,” Jay Martinson said. “We thought, ‘Why wait around? Let’s get this thing moving and try to get it done as quick as possible.’”
Martinson added that if funding decreases, the multi-use field wouldn’t be constructed right away.
“We can always cut that out of our budget to start,” Martinson said. “The primary goal is to get the baseball field up and running.”
Martinson hopes construction can begin in April or May, but that depends on funding timeliness and weather. He believes the fields can be completed as early as June or July.
The Martinsons also presented information to the SCSD1 board of trustees during a board work session Dec. 10.
At the meeting, SCSD1 superintendent Pete Kilbride expressed support for the proposal.
“I think the idea is a great one.” Kilbride said. “…The cheapest way to do it would be to do it all at once … It really kind of needs to happen right now.”
The area could also potentially include a walking path and outdoor exercise equipment.
“We want to make sure this is for the whole community, not just kids,” Kilbride said. “We want older adults to have some use out of it, too.”
The fields would use turf instead of grass because of significant water costs that would be needed to maintain grass fields. Turf will require minimal maintenance costs and last about 30 years.
“A turf field is really and truly the most viable option we have long term,” SCSD1 business manager Jeremy Smith said during the Dec. 10 work session.
On the legal side, an agreement regarding scheduling and insurance will likely be drawn up between the baseball club, recreation district and school district, with the understanding that the property still ultimately belongs to the school district. An agreement would likely give the school district authority over the fields from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday. The BH Baseball Club would then take control of scheduling after school hours and weekends.
Other Sheridan County schools could also use the fields as long as the practice request is approved.
“I think that’s the beauty of having it out there,” Martinson said.
Martinson said there wouldn’t be a new baseball league. Rather, a new facility would serve as a practice space for travel teams composed of students in elementary school. He hopes to work with the Sheridan Baseball Club going forward and potentially host summer baseball tournaments.
“No competition by any means,” Martinson said. “…There’s a lot of interest and we just want to make sure it keeps feeding into that.”
Noticeable work won’t begin for at least a few months, but funding for new sporting fields in Big Horn continues to come in.
The board approved annual funding of up to $49,838 for various SCSD1 entities and events. The funding included $15,000 for the Tongue River Valley Community Center in Dayton and $12,500 for SCSD1 activities at the Sheridan County YMCA.
The recreation district board will likely meet again in February, but no official date has been set.