Work at the $6.3 million athletic complex just off River Road in the Village of DeForest is progressing, despite delays due to wet weather conditions.
An opening ceremony is likely to take place in the spring, according to DeForest Public Services Director Kelli Bialkowski.
Bialkowski said they are preparing for the installation of synthetic turf in the infields of two of the four ball diamonds in the next two weeks, depending on the weather.
“We were hoping to have a soft opening this fall, but the turf won’t be established in time,” said Bialkowski.
Originally, it was hoped the project could be completed in its entirety this fall. Almost all the work will be finished. The turf is the one exception.
When it’s done, the complex, situated north of Windsor Road and east of River Road in the Conservancy Place neighborhood, will feature four ball diamonds, two with synthetic turf and two with skinned infields.
The two synthetic fields will also have movable fences that can be adjusted for the different ages of players. Ball fields will be lighted.
A concession building is located in the center of the complex. It is being built with urban wood from ash trees removed the village had to remove from Fireman’s Park.
Two long, multi-use fields are also going in. It is expected they will be used by DeForest Area Youth Football and local soccer teams, and possibly, for lacrosse teams. Future additions could include two tennis courts, a playground and a small shelter near the long fields.
“We’re eager to see how the community wants to use them,” said Bialkowski.
The project goals: Meet local recreational needs and create sports destination community. Other work that’s either finished or in the process of being completed includes work on the concession building, laser grading the outfield portion of the ball diamonds, laying down concrete and installing irrigation systems and the lighting.
Later, the parking lot will be paved. Bialkowski said that’s one of the last things on the to-do list. Also, a storage shed is nearly completed, and fence posts are in, but the fencing has yet to be added on.
“Next spring, it’ll be lights on, let’s play ball!” said Bialkowski.
Bialkowski said nearly one-third of the total turnkey costs of the $6.3 million project are expected to be funded through economic development. Additionally, the village has a sponsorship program that could recoup some of the construction expenses, while also setting aside funds for future replacement and maintenance costs.
The whole idea for the athletic complex has been discussed for over a decade and has evolved over time. The need for more ball diamonds provided the impetus, as did a desire to recast Fireman’s Park, according to Bialkowski. But, the vision for it grew into something that would generate more economic development in the community, said Bialkowski. A contract was awarded in the fall of 2018 for the project, which began in the spring.
The arrival of the GRB Academy in the Village of DeForest was also a factor, leading to engagement on other business possibilities, according to Bialkowski. She was also quick to point out that it wasn’t just the establishment of GRB Academy that led to the athletic complex project.
“The community has had some concerns that the village is doing this for a private interest, but that is not the case,” said Bialkowski, who also said the partnership between the village and GRB Academy has been great.
At the new athletic complex, local softball leagues will get priority scheduling for Monday through Friday on the ball diamonds, said Bialkowski. The Windsor Heat youth softball program is also expected to use the fields. On the weekends, village officials hope the athletic complex will host large tournaments, which could be an economic boon locally.
“With the four ball diamonds, with two synthetic turf fields, we felt we could hold separate tournaments,” said Bialkowski. “The synthetic turf fields appeal to tournament directors because of their performance with storm water.”
The village hopes to take advantage of the youth sports boom in the area.
“Youth sports are on the rise,” said Bialkowski. “Nobody can argue with that.”
Village President Judd Blau is looking forward to seeing residents use the new facility. Blau said he plays in an adult over-30 softball league. It will be competing on the new ball diamonds.
“We’ll have a couple of wonderful synthetic turf fields and ones with skinned infields, so we’ll have options for playing varied surfaces,” said Blau.
Blau also sees the potential for the complex to host tournaments, which he believes will benefit the local economy.
“It will drive visitors to come here and spend money in the community,” said Blau. “It’s kind of a win-win. I envision a hotel being added to the area in the future, and the room tax it generates can be used to help market the community to attract other businesses.”
Blau said more taxes coming in could help share the burden of paying off the facility and its Tax Incremental Financing district, as well as the bridge that will be built across Innovation Drive.
The athletic complex project was delayed by the wet spring and summer in the area, pushing back grading and “a fair amount of earth moving,” said Bialkowski. She also said muddy fields prevented the digging for posts. She said for every one day of rain during the project, it was three days before the contractor could return.
Nevertheless, it is getting closer to completion.
“It’s clearly going to be a benefit to residents,” said Blau. “Park space is always at a premium.”