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Chicago Daily Herald
The first upgrade to Naperville's Knoch Park after the final Ribfest at the site concludes next summer will be a renovation to a softball field used by Naperville Unit District 203.
The district plans to improve and relocate the Naperville Central High School varsity girls softball team's home field in the park starting July 8 at a projected cost of $800,000.
The project is part of a list of planned renovations for the park that will make it impossible for its largest summer tenant - the Exchange Club of Naperville's Ribfest celebration - to take place there anymore after 2019. Dan Bridges, Naperville Unit District 203 superintendent, said during a school board meeting in October that the softball field project will help address a concern that the field used by Naperville Central softball players isn't up to snuff when compared to the softball site at in-district rival Naperville North High School or to the baseball fields used by either school.
"This project will bring this (field) in line and bring it up to an equitable standard of those facilities," Bridges said.
The work is planned to begin next summer and conclude in time for the field to be used for softball competition in spring 2020.
Bob Ross, District 203's chief operating officer, said work will include relocating the field east of its current site, so it sits south of the varsity baseball field in the park.
The diamond itself will be reoriented, so home plate is at the southeast corner of the site. Contractors, once bids are released and companies are hired, will install new dugouts, dirt, fencing, walls and seating, then plant grass in the fall for the upgraded facility.
"We want to have the field in great shape for the following March and April," Ross said.
The field, though, isn't on District 203 property. So the school board on Monday approved a 20-year lease with Naperville Park District for use of the space.
"We're thrilled that we're able to work with the park district to improve the facility for our girls softball team as well as for the community," school board President Kristin Fitzgerald said.
Under the lease, the school district will build and maintain the field. When school teams aren't using it for practices or games, the park district can schedule its own games and programs on the diamond, park district Executive Director Ray McGury said.
The school board and park district also agreed to extend District 203's lease of a baseball field at Knoch Park to encompass the same 20-year duration. While the softball diamond renovation and relocation is the only upgrade finalized for Knoch Park, both McGury and Bridges say more changes likely are coming. Plans under consideration for Knoch Park, at 724 S. West St., include constructing a synthetic turf field for soccer, lacrosse and flag football; installing courts for pickleball; and adding to the system of walking trails, McGury said.
If the park district is able to add a synthetic turf field, McGury said it could help ease scheduling conflicts on the fields at Naperville Central and Naperville North High Schools, as well as the tracks that encircle them.
Bridges said District 203 has been in talks with the park district about the potential park additions and looks forward to the changes possibly helping with access to facilities for junior high and high school athletics.
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