Parents are outraged that the Lake Washington School District failed to maintain the baseball field at Lake Washington High School to the point the district condemned the field in January because it poses a danger to the community.
A sign posted on the field’s fence gate states the field was closed on Jan. 4 and will remain closed until further notice “due to hazardous conditions.” The district shut down the field just weeks before baseball season began, which has left several teams without a practice field.
Named after the legendary Kangs coach Dave Chambers, the field serves as the school’s primary practice field.
“It’s a nightmare,” said Sim Osborn, a Seattle attorney whose son Court plays on the Kangs varsity baseball team. “The parents have always maintained the field – not the school district.”
He said there were broken and open electrical circuits in the batting cages the parents had to take out.
“In the bullpens, there are spikes and pipes coming out of the ground,” said Osborn. “It was so unbelievably unsafe.”
Now, Kangs teams are forced to practice wherever they can find an available field, including Kirkland Middle School and as far as Marymoor Park in Redmond.
“The parents are angry,” said Osborn, noting some parents have pooled their money and are considering a lawsuit against the district. “We want to know why we have to pay $275 for our kids to play baseball and we can’t use the field. We have to buy our own cleats and bats, so why the hell don’t they have a field? It’s a complete and total nightmare.”
Osborn is one of the parents who have personally helped to maintain the field over the years.
In the past, parents set up a rotating schedule to water the field. They even got a permit from the water district one year to attach 300 feet of water hoses to a fire hydrant to create a water sprinkler, Osborn said.
Osborn has also mowed the entire field with a riding lawn mower.
“That’s enormous – it takes four hours,” he noted. “You can smoke two full-size Cuban cigars and drink four bottles of water, that’s how long it takes to mow the field. We did that once a week all summer.”
He also purchased a cover for the pitching mound to protect the area from inclement weather.
Kathryn Reith, a spokesperson for the school district, said the district closed the field after it reviewed the area at the request of the school’s athletic director and associate principal, who were concerned about the field’s safety.
“There were issues with uneven grass surfaces, batting cage conditions, uneven asphalt and concrete issues,” said Reith, noting the field was closed to prevent any injuries from happening.
She said the district has various stakeholders – including school staff and students, booster clubs and community users – who “take an interest” in the school’s fields and athletic facilities.
“In this case, it is apparent we had a lack of clarity with regard to the roles of our stakeholders, which led to the field condition,” said Reith. “That is why we are developing stronger systems, documentation and protocols with regard to maintenance agreements and field upgrades. Ultimately, the district is responsible and we want to make sure this kind of situation does not happen again.”
Peter Lyon, whose son also plays on the Kangs varsity baseball team, said he was not surprised when the district shut down the field.
“It’s been a miracle that there haven’t been more kids injured on that field,” said Lyon. “The fact that the field was condemned was not a surprise and the condition of the field should have been addressed years ago.”
He said he witnessed one player suffer an ankle sprain, as well as another kid who got hit in the face with a ground ball due to the poor field condition.
As a youth coach in the area, he said the Lake Washington High School baseball field is “by far the worst field” that he has seen.
But both Osborn and Lyon said this issue also affects the entire community. In addition to various teams that use the baseball field, including the Kirkland Boys and Girls Club, residents also use the field for recreation.
“The entire community is being shut out of the most visible asset it has,” noted Osborn.
He spoke before the Lake Washington School Board on Monday night and called on district officials to “step up and make this right.”
He urged the district to install turf field instead of replanting the grass, which could take up to two years.
Lyon noted the community could use a multi-purpose turf field year-round. He noted that most fields his teams have played on in the area are turf fields.
However, Reith said the district’s standard for baseball fields is grass, which is inexpensive. She noted the district’s only artificial turf field is at Eastlake High School, which the city of Sammamish paid for.
She said the district plans to restore and upgrade the field in a two-phase project. The field’s last complete renovation was in 1986, she said.
In May, the district will begin work on the first phase, outfield restoration. That will include removing existing grass, grading the area, upgrading the irrigation system and outfield seeding, said Reith.
Work on the second phase is expected to begin in July and will include infield and backstop area construction, excavation, irrigation, drainage upgrades and installation of a new infield. Reith said new fencing for the backstop area, new perimeter concrete, bullpens and batting cages are also part of the second phase.
The district expects the field to be ready for use by February 2014, barring any setbacks, said Reith.
The entire project will cost approximately $600,000 and be paid for with funds from the 2010 capital projects levy.
Reporter Raechel Dawson contributed to this report. Contact Kirkland Reporter Editor Carrie Rodriguez at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-425-822-9166 (ext 5050).