Panel to study ball fields at middle school

Trent Maloney Memorial Inc. offers to help with private donation campaign
Warren Bluhm
News Editor

An ad hoc committee of the Oconto Falls School Board is being formed to work with Trent Maloney Memorial Inc. on the feasibility of building baseball fields at the district’s new middle school, using a combination of private and public dollars.

A contingency from the memorial fund appeared at the board’s April 8 meeting to offer a donation and work on a fundraising campaign to create the fields in memory of the 9-year-old boy, who died in 2020 of complications from cardiac arrest a few weeks earlier.

Superintendent Dean Hess reported that the cost of building two grass baseball fields would be in the neighborhood of $1.2 million to $1.5 million. That cost may or may not include a small concession stand, he added.

“These are basically some broad strokes,” Hess said.

Ball fields were included in the original middle school referendum, which was defeated in April 2022, and removed as the district scaled back for a successful referendum that November. Consulting and engineering firm Nexus Solutions has been working with the district throughout.

“When we started talking with Nexus about three years ago, it was expected fields would cost about $900,000,” Hess said. “That was a pretty plain Jane proposal, with no concessions, toilets or lighting. We talked to Nexus about what that (price) would look like today, based on inflation.”

Hess estimated that building the fields with turf rather than grass would add $500,000 per field to the $1.2 million to $1.5 million estimate. Lighting would add another $328,000.

Wittenberg-Birnamwood just built a baseball-softball field and practice football field for approximately $1 million, he said. The facility has no plumbing yet, and the district did its own general contracting to save some dollars.

On the other end of the scale, the Green Bay School District recently completed a state-of-the-art facility at one of its high schools, with a baseball field, softball field, concessions, bathrooms, batting cages, bullpens, lights, turf and other high-end features.

“It is an amazing facility. The total cost was approximately $6 million,” Hess said. “It looks like a professional facility.”

The advantage of turf is that teams can get on the fields faster in the spring than they can on a grass field, Hess said. In a typical spring baseball and softball games are frequently postponed in March and early April because of field conditions.

One option is to develop the project in phases, he said.

Board President Clint Gardebrecht broached the idea of forming an ad hoc committee that would work with the Maloney group to come up with a work plan. Most of the seven-member board expressed interest in being on that committee.

“From our conversations last time, we were all in unity with the thought of how this could look in a few years, but as we take on this project, what is the scope?” asked Bryan Baumler, the board vice president. “If we talk with the people who organize this, if we ask what is it that you are really seeking, that will help us understand the price point of where we can move with it.”

“Honoring Trent in the best way we can is the most is the most important thing,” added board member Carrie Hill. “Getting whatever we’re doing right, we want to honor Trent. That’s the most important thing.”

Hess said that both Wittenberg-Birnamwood and Green Bay said that Oconto Falls is welcome to send a contingent to tour their new facilities. Baumler said that would be beneficial.

“Oconto Falls is different from Wittenberg, Oconto Falls is different from Green Bay, but when you look at both you get a good idea of how you can put that puzzle together,” Baumler said. “Before we started that building across the street (the new middle school), we went to four or five middle schools to get a good idea of what we want.”

The Trent Maloney Memorial organization said they were hopeful new fields could be built in time for the class of 2029 — Trent’s class — to play there as freshmen. Construction of Oconto Falls Middle School is on track to be completed and open in the fall of 2025.