Caution urged at ball fields

FAIRMONT – Caution signs have been strung across the dugouts at Winnebago Avenue Sports Complex, and signs warn the public that the fields are closed while work is being done to improve their conditions.

Those signs weren’t there when some local slow-pitch softball players took to the fields to practice pre-season last week. On Monday, Fairmont City Council listened to complaints from these men, who worried about safety issues for themselves and families using the fields.

Slow-pitch softball player Mike Fischer said the fields are still extremely hard, but even more concerning were the stakes, glass and metal found on the diamonds just last week.

“I’m the lucky one who went out there to practice and discovered all this,” said Brad Seifert, who posted pictures of his findings to Facebook and stirred up conversation about the sports complex.

The city is aware of the problems, and has since posted the signage warning people to avoid the fields for the time being, according to public works director Troy Nemmers.

“Two to three weeks ago, we told CER we are closing the fields to get them in playable condition,” Nemmers said.

Last fall, all the ag-lime on the infield was screened, and a thin layer of top soil was spread on the outfields and then seeded to even out the ground.

The contractor will be making passes through the property to clean it up, and city crews will be going through multiple times as well to get the fields cleaned up.

“If there’s anything the FSA can do, we have a lot of volunteers willing to help pick these fields up and make them look nice and neat,” said Seifert, who worried the glass and debris is buried in the fields and will continue to unearth itself each year.

City Councilman Terry Anderson was upset to hear about the fields’ conditions.

“I thought it was supposed to be clean fill. It was supposed to be a good base,” he said. “… That’s not acceptable.”

Nemmers acknowledged the new fields were built on top of an old farm site and the former community gardens. He assured the council and ball players, again, that the contractor and city workers will be doing their best to clean up the fields.

Councilman Darin Rahm asked for patience: “Those fields were made accessible right away, when ideally they should have been closed for a few years to work out these details. … There’s going to be some give and take.”

In other business, the council:

o Approved the purchase of a $31,600 climbing wall for Fairmont Aquatic Park. City staff had suggested a cheaper option of $25,000, but the council agreed on a “canyon aspect” wall that will have a more realistic climbing surface.

“If we’re going to build it, let’s do it right,” said Councilman Joe Kallemeyn.

Leftover funds set aside for improvements at the park will pay for the wall, plus $6,600 from the council’s contingency fund.

The wall will replace two 12-foot drop slides that were removed from the park.

o Set a public hearing for 5:30 p.m. April 28 for the rental housing ordinance, after which the council will vote on the proposal.

o Approved transferring the Job Opportunity Building Zone subsidy agreement from Buffalo Lake Energy to Green Plains Renewable Energy, which purchased the ethanol plant last year.