This time next year, the Dollarway baseball team will be wrapping up its first season at the new Townsend Park.
At least that’s the hope.
“We hope we’ll get to play over there,” Cardinals coach Greg Cleveland said. “We’re trying to get baseball and softball over there.
“The old Townsend Park is where we played when I first took over as coach. It was nice playing there, but I just couldn’t get any help with the field.”
Cleveland said Dollarway athletics director Lee Hardman had discussions “earlier in the year” about playing there next season.
“There’s nothing official to it,” Cleveland said. “Our A.D. Hardman had been talking to people, who specifically I’m not sure, about getting our boys and girls over there.”
Ward 4 Alderman Steven Mays said he’s been in talks with Dollarway superintendent Bobby Acklin to get the Cardinals to play at Townsend Park.
“I had been talking with Mr. Acklin quite a bit,” Mays said, “about trying to get the high school team playing there.”
Cleveland said the baseball team has played its past few games at Taylor Field because of poor field conditions at Bush Field. He said the softball team has been playing at Martin Luther King Jr. Park.
The decision where to play next year could be out of Dollarway’s hands, though.
Construction on the new Townsend Park — the old park was razed last June — has not started yet. The schematic renderings by ETC Engineers and Architects Inc. were completed earlier this week and the bid process for the park officially opened Tuesday.
Construction is expected to be finished by spring 2015, but that could still leave the high school season — which takes place mainly during March and April — in doubt.
Even if the fields aren’t ready for the high school season, the expectation is that the Pine Bluff Northern Little League would be back playing games at Townsend Park in the summer of 2015.
That’s still one summer later than Northern League officials thought it would be.
“We were told the park would be ready for this year,” Northern board member Cameo Stokes said. “… Being stuck over at Martin Luther King Park hurts the league in general.
“We lose kids because of the conditions at Martin Luther King Park.”
Northern board president Albert King said he doesn’t think the league is losing players to other leagues. He did say he feels that playing at Martin Luther King Jr. Park put the Northern League players at a disadvantage.
“Basically, it’s a softball park,” King said. “It’s not a baseball park.
“It has a dirt infield, so when our kids go to play in tournaments where there are grass infields they are at a disadvantage. They just aren’t used to it.”
King said last week that he and the rest of the board were under the impression the Townsend Park fields would be ready for this summer.
“I was told that last year,” he said. “They haven’t even got started on the construction. They are just opening the bid process on April 22nd.
“But, yes, I was under the impression there would be 2014 baseball at Townsend Park.”
Pine Bluff Parks and Recreation director April Layher, who joined the department on Jan. 1 of this year, said she was never under that impression.
“Everything I had heard,” she said, “spoke of spring 2015.”
In a June 2013 story in The Commercial, previous parks and recreation director Angela Parker said, “[I]t may be the summer of 2015 before any games are played on the fields.”
Last May, the city council appropriated $450,000 for preliminary planning work at the park. The funds were part of the money collected from the five-eighths cent Penny for Progress tax, which was approved by voters in 2011.
Based on the schematic, the plan for Townsend Park is to build three fields of varying size around a central concession stand/bathroom area.
“The plan is to get three up and running,” Mays said, “and then add one later.”
Based on the architect’s schematic of the project, there does appear to be room for another field to be added down the road.
“It looks like they have potential to do a fourth one here if they want to,” Layher said when looking over the schematic. “Once again, this is the kind of way probably a lot of cities have to work.
“You kind of lay things out, so that you can get what you can pay for now. And then down the road, hopefully, if you have the opportunity, build more.”
Layher said she hasn’t received calls from the public about Townsend Park, but she did offer how she would respond to such questions.
“That we plan to have it open next spring,” she said. “That, hopefully, the construction and the weather cooperate.
“That’s all we can say.”
To some people the project is taking longer than imagined; for others it’s right on schedule, but all sides agree about one thing.
It has to be done right the first time, and if done correctly, it will be well worth it.
“I’m looking forward to it just as much as anybody,” Mays said. “But you can’t rush these things. You just have to be still looking forward and being patient. …
“It has to be 100 percent up to par.”