Sports field assessment back on table

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The Camas 11- to 12-year-old all-star team plays in the district championship game at Forest Home Park in Camas in July 2014. (Post-Record file photo)

A plan to assess the state of Camas’ sports fields is back on the table four months after the majority of Camas City Council members derailed the Parks and Recreation Department contract.

“In October of last year, I presented to you a contract with MacKay Sposito to do a full assessment of all of our fields, providing a chance to speak with other partners — east Vancouver, school districts, Clark County and the city of Washougal — taking a look at the infrastructure and understanding the capacities and levels of service,” Camas Parks and Recreation Director Trang Lam told Council members during their workshop Monday, Feb. 5.

Three of the current Council members — Tim Hein, Leslie Lewallen and Jennifer Senescu — along with former Councilman Don Chaney, voted against the $124,000 sports field contract on Oct. 16, 2023, and stated that they didn’t want to pass the contract, which had already been included in the City’s 2023-24 general fund budget.

The Council members said their October decision was based on new revelations that sluggish housing sales and new home construction had led to an unanticipated shortfall in the City’s expected property and sales tax revenues, causing Camas Mayor Steve Hogan to halt the hiring of 22 new City employees.

“When I saw the (mayor’s proposed 2024 budget) didn’t include anything for police sergeants, firefighters, police officers, I couldn’t think consultation for sports fields at this time is a good use of our resources,” Councilwoman Jennifer Senescu said during the Council’s Oct. 16, 2023, meeting. “Right now, it comes down to sergeants or consultation on sports fields.”

The decision, however, had unintended consequences for the City, including the possibility that Camas could miss out on more than $1 million worth of newly created state grants meant to improve sports fields throughout Washington state.

“This is a new grant with one-time funding in 2024, and possible funding in 2025,” Lam told the Council Monday. “We can ask for up to $1.2 million without having a match.”

Although 20% of the grant application will be based on Census data showing need — something Camas, a wealthier city without a lot of underserved residents, would not benefit from — Lam said the majority of the grant application will be based on each city’s narrative and possible impact of the grant money.

“Eighty percent is (based on a) narrative, and we can tell a really good story,” Lam told Parks and Recreation Commission members in January. “One of the ways to tell a good story is to do an assessment and do that work to get that data.”

Lam said the sports field assessment would show the state’s Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO), the grant provider, the city of Camas was serious about improving its fields to meet the community’s current and future sports field needs.

In her presentation to the Council, Lam explained that the City “has a collection of grass fields that serve youth and adult baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse and rugby; and a handful of outdoor courts that serve tennis, pickleball and basketball. Over the last several years, this region has experienced very wet spring seasons, which have negatively impacted the grass fields and shortened the practice and playing season for leagues. While there are synthetic fields available through the school district and Clark County Parks, the City has heard that it does not meet current user demand, especially for leagues that use Camas fields as their home field.”

Lam told the Council Monday she has been meeting with field users and leaders in other, nearby jurisdictions for more than a year.

“I’ve been having conversations in the community for a year and a half now,” Lam told the Council Monday, “and have engaged with the city of Washougal, with Camas School District, with our (sports) leagues and with people who don’t have fields right now, like sand volleyball players, who say they would be willing to help pay for use (of a sand volleyball court) if we had one. There has been a lot of hard work to get people ready to come to the table and help solve the problem.”

Lam said there is limited time to turn in the pre-application for the possible $1.2 million sports field grant even if city officials approve the sports field contract during the Council’s meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 20.

“We will have about five and a half weeks to turn this around,” Lam said of the grant’s pre-application. Having work started on the sports field assessment would improve the City’s chances if it is selected to proceed to the second round of the grant application process, Lam said.

“The contract before you is really a roadmap of how to improve our (sports field) system in general and work with our partners,” Lam said.

The parks director added that, when the City undertook its extensive Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces (PROS) Plan outreach in 2021, focus group participants often cited a need for improved and better maintained sports fields.

“We heard comments … that our system has aged, and we need more capacity,” Lam said Monday. “This is a chance to solve a broader issue for the community.”

The total cost of the sports field assessment contract — which now includes concept-planning work on Forest Home Park to support the RCO grant application narrative — is $144,965. If approved by the Council Feb. 20, MacKay Sposito consultants would work on the assessment for the next eight months; create a public participation plan to engage community members and sports field stakeholders; conduct site visits to gather data on Camas’ sports fields; draft a citywide sports field plan; and support the City in its grant application process.

“This plan will evaluate all of our existing fields,” Lam said Monday.

She added that, although the state is not requiring matching funds for the $1.2 million RCO grants, local Little Leagues have raised some money to dedicate toward Camas’ baseball fields.

“So with that match, we might be able to score a little bit higher,” Lam said of the City’s grant prospects.

Senescu, who opposed funding the field assessment contract in October 2023, said she had since talked with Lam and Little League leaders about the contract’s benefits for Camas.

“I would like to thank Trang (Lam) and Little League for educating me on what’s going on with these fields,” Senescu said Monday. “This is a huge endeavor, and now that I’ve looked at every aspect, I feel that $144,000 is a reasonable starting point.”

The sports field assessment contract is expected to come before Camas officials again as part of the Council’s regular meeting consent agenda Tuesday, Feb. 20.