Donor wants to bring special-needs field to Steubenville’s North End

DISCUSSION — Kimberly Hahn, Steubenville councilwoman at large, and Mayor Jerry Barilla discuss plans to put a Miracle Field in the north end of Steubenville. -- Linda Harris

STEUBENVILLE — A city resident wants to turn the North End ball field into a Miracle Field — an all-inclusive park for people of all ages and abilities — potentially at no cost to the city.

Thom Way told the city’s Parks and Recreation Board Wednesday the base plan will cost about $1.6 million, but the price tag could go up as high as $2.8 million if they get the go-ahead to acquire an old manufacturing site next to the field.

If that happens, they’d carve out a new entrance to the field and develop a new parking lot, leaving the existing parking area to handle any overflow.

“The North End park is a gateway into our city,” Way said. “There’s no grander space for interested citizens in the area to develop a Miracle League field and all-inclusive playground. It would all be on a poured surface, so individuals with varying degrees of mobility would be able to navigate the space. It would be for all ages, all abilities.”

Way said his nonprofit, Urban Frontier Organization, has already lined up partnerships and grants to cover much of the expense and figures it won’t be difficult to get the rest. While it won’t be cheap, Way said, “It’s going to be worth it.”

“It will be a statement piece, and this one will say, ‘Steubenville is open and welcomes people of all ages and all abilities,'” Way said, pointing out more than 15,000 people in the tri-county area have some sort of intellectual or developmental disability, “yet there’s no safe space for them to access and enjoy.”

“There’s (currently) nowhere for these individuals to socialize, to participate in group activities and be engaged,” he added.

Parks and Recreation Director Lori Fetherolf said she’s been in discussions with Way for the past three or four months, adding the project is “very much needed in the community and will be a great benefit to everybody.”

“What excites me is it’s an opportunity for inclusiveness,” Fetherolf added. “(And) we will be the site everybody comes to.”

Way, peppered with questions from board members and city officials, stressed that the group will not be asking the park board or the city for money. While the field would be owned by the city, Way said Urban Frontier would be responsible for upkeep and operations.

“It would remain a city-owned asset,” he said, adding his organization believes parks and recreation opportunities are an integral part of the economic development protocol of any small town.

“This is just the first step in the process,” pointing out, with the board’s encouragement, he’ll make a presentation to council.

Way expects the project will be completed in 2021, even if the project scope is expanded to include the extra property next to the American Legion post.

The ball field would be restricted to T-ball, which would require shifting girls softball to other fields, but Fetherolf said they should be able to accommodate the teams elsewhere. There’s even talk of installing a synthetic ice surface in the cool weather months for skating, Way said.

“It’s almost a no-brainer,” board member Garfield Hayden said, while board member Kelly Herrmann called it a “tremendous opportunity.”

“I have a hard time finding any negatives in this arrangement,” Herrmann added.

“It’s just a great opportunity that doesn’t come along very often,” Fetherolf said. “I’m looking at what this brings for Steubenville, for our community and our town. It’s something we would not be able to afford to do (ourselves).”

Ted Gorman, the new president of the Steubenville Baseball Association, told the board the group wants to work in partnership with it.

“We’re trying to bring our kids who are playing baseball in other communities back to our community to play,” Gorman said.

Gorman said with the board’s approval, SBA would like to take responsibility for at least three ball fields in season, and would use their own equipment to prepare and maintain them.

“We’re just trying as volunteers to help out,” he said.

Board president Ken Peterson said, “It’s great, it’s wonderful,” but they need to review SBA’s bylaws before they agree to anything “because I’m sure there are things we’ll have to put in.”

Fetherolf told the board it’s time to begin working on a five-year parks and recreation plan, urging board members to bring their ideas with them to the next meeting.

She also told the board pool attendance has doubled since she joined the department three years ago, adding Belleview Pool attracted on average 54.5 people per day this year. There also were seven rentals.

“I’m really pleased with how the season went,” she said.

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