The Watertown City Council never did reach consensus on what type of new dugouts to pursue at Highland Park, but by a narrow 3-2 margin authorized city staff to move forward in seeking bids for at-grade “dugouts” that would be built at the same level as the playing field.
That action taken by the City Council fell in line with the original recommendation from the Park and Recreation Board, which recommended at-grade dugouts to replace the current below-grade dugouts. The Park Board made the recommendation in large part because the current dugouts frequently fill with water and need to be pumped out by city staff in order to be made playable.
However, numerous members of the City Council stated their preference for traditional below-grade dugouts during the Aug. 13 Council meeting, and rather than authorizing staff to seek bids on at-grade dugouts at that time, the Council instead directed staff to investigate the costs that might be involved with improving an underground drainage system that would eliminate the problems associated with the current sunken dugouts.
City engineer Andrew Budde presented two options at last week’s Aug. 27 meeting for a new 8-inch drain tile that would prevent flooding of below ground dugouts. The options ranged from an estimated $15,000 to $20,000, which would be in addition to the $35,000 the city budgeted for dugouts.
That cost was just too high for Councilor Adam Pawelk, a noted baseball fan who said during the previous meeting that cost aside, he preferred the below-ground dugouts because of their place in baseball tradition.
“I agree with the sentiment in the dugouts, because it does give that feel and that look,” Pawelk said during last week’s meeting. “But that $20,000, I can’t support that.”
Pawelk voted along with Mayor Charlotte Johnson and Councilor Stephen Crowder in directing staff to move forward with plans for at-grade “dugouts,” which are supported by both the Watertown-Mayer High School baseball coach and the local youth baseball association because of their easy maintenance.
However, Councilors Michael Walters and Steve Washburn voted against the motion, maintaining their previous preference for below-ground dugouts, which are preferred by the Watertown Red Devils. Washburn noted that as most cities have moved away from below-ground dugouts, that feature is one of the things that makes Highland Park unique. He said that making the baseball park a showpiece for the community could ultimately help the city attract a state amateur baseball tournament, like the one held recently in Delano.
“It is my belief that (Highland Park) is one of our key assets of our community,” Washburn said. “I believe we need to compete for events and compete for activities. I want to make sure we’re thinking about that in that context when we’re talking about this improvement or any improvement.”
Johnson, as she did at the first meeting, continued to steadfastly oppose below-grade dugouts, both because of the additional maintenance factors and the additional costs involved.
“If we’re going to spend $15,000 for anything in the park, let’s use it to improve it in other ways rather than having a dugout,” she said. “It’s out of date. It’s ancient. It isn’t what a majority of area cities have.”
Johnson’s final argument though, was one of the primary reasons Walters supported below ground dugouts.
“Yes, a lot of other parks have gone to an on-grade slab, but I think that’s what separates us,” Walters said.
In order to better improve drainage in potential below-grade dugouts, new train tile would have been laid to replace the existing system, which clogs easily from sunflower seeds, dirt, pebbles and other baseball-related debris. One option, estimated to cost somewhere between $18,000 and $20,000, would have run the tile from each dugout and around the grandstand, where it would meet underneath a grassy area behind the grandstand before running out to the street.
A second option would have cost an estimated $15,000 to $17,000, but would have run a tile between the two dugouts before filtering the water in a single tile out to the parking lot. The line would have crossed almost directly under home plate, which Pawelk pointed out was far from optimal.
The city hopes to complete the dugout project this fall so that the dugouts will be ready when baseball season starts in spring.