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Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee)
Signal Mountain planners are exploring a grant opportunity that could help restore the town's baseball and softball fields to their former glory.
The grant, offered through the state's Local Parks and Recreation Fund, would go toward renovations at Driver Field and Marion Field, both of which sit behind Signal Mountain Golf & Country Club.
The fields have not seen any significant improvements since they were built in the 1950s, planners explained, and residents who support the grant say the touch-up is long overdue.
"I played softball out there in 1968, '69 and '70, and it ain't changed since then," said town resident Randy Rigsby.
As of now, specific improvements are not set in stone, said Jennifer Williams, regional planner for the Southeast Tennessee Development District.
City officials plan to walk the fields with an engineer to see what work could be done on them and to determine how much each improvement would cost.
If awarded, the grant would provide funds for half of the work, contributing up to $500,000, and the town would be required to pay for the rest.
For now, planners say they hope to be able to address the fields' drainage issues; replace the light poles and fencing; redo the restroom facilities, concession stand and storage building surrounding the fields; and make updates to ensure the fields comply to standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
"There were little things we could have done, but they would have been band-aids," said Sam Guin, special projects and compliance manager for the town of Signal Mountain. "Being able to do a really extensive project like this would be a long-term fix."
Pat Cross said improvements on the field would be a big win for the men who play in Signal Mountain's church softball league, which consists of about 100 players age 40 and older from six different churches.
"Getting hurt is not really an option," said Cross, who has been playing in the league for four years. "We're all working guys; it's not like in high school or college where you can just take a couple months off if you have a broken ankle, so safety is paramount."
Cross said the league players' two major concerns are the infield, which is without proper drainage, and the outfield, which he said is filled with holes because the ground is uneven.
"It's not level at all," he said, adding with a laugh, "You might as well be playing out back in a sandbox."
Right now, about 450 kids also use the fields for baseball, said town Recreation Director Jarred Thompson, and many more occasionally use the grounds to practice lacrosse, football and soccer. But the fields are mainly used by the church league and the Signal Mountain Girls Softball League, which has 150 players, he added.
If the fields saw some of those much-needed renovations, however, Cross said he believes their usage would likely increase, as the number of teams in leagues would begin to grow again and teams could even be recruited from Chattanooga.
The church league has already donated about $3,000 to the town to make that vision a reality, Thompson said.
"So we're definitely open to doing whatever we need to do on our end to make it happen," Cross said. "It means a lot to the town, and it means a lot to the guys playing."
The deadline for the town to submit the grant application is April. Planners will know whether Signal Mountain was awarded the grant or not in August or September, when TDEC announces the grant recipients.
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