|Wilder City Administrator Terry Vance addresses a recent planning meeting. City development projects are underway, and the city hopes to add the Newport Central Catholic ball field to the mix.|
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by Robin Gee, city council beat editor
City of Wilder officials have planned all along to replace the city’s Little League field that was removed during construction and expansion of the park that runs behind the city building. Yet, when it became clear that Newport Central Catholic High School (NCC) was continuing its search for a new home field for their baseball program, an opportunity arose.
Why not build a ball field that serves local Little League and city recreation needs but also one that is big enough to accommodate a high school team? That question may be a good one, but it comes with its own set of challenges
"We are excited for the opportunity to work with NCC, but we have to find a location that meets their needs as well as ours," said Wilder City Administrator Terry Vance.
History of the NCC project proposal
The NCC project comes to Wilder after first being considered by the city of Southgate. Plagued with flooding issues in the public field they were using in Silver Grove, school officials approached Southgate with a proposal last fall. The school would upgrade the city’s ball field located near the city community center in exchange for access to the site for practices and games, as the school’s home field.
The high school offered to improve the field and add amenities such as batting cages, dugouts, bleachers with concrete pads, fencing and more, as well as baseball clinics for area youth and a commitment to maintain the field year-round.
Some residents, however, expressed concerns over potential traffic safety issues and conflicts that could arise with events being held at the community center. The city decided to put their decision on hold, but opposition continued to grow, especially on online forums.
Just before a new public hearing was to be held to revisit the potential project earlier this month, school officials decided to rescind their offer to Southgate, stating it was not their intention to cause division among city residents.
Following the school’s decision, Southgate Mayor Jim Hamburg blasted local residents for social media posts that certainly influenced NCC’s decision.
Moving on to Wilder
While Southgate offered an existing ball field, Wilder had removed the city’s field in anticipation of its city center development plan that included construction and improvements for a new fire station, amphitheater and recreation area. A new ball field was to be included in the recreation development projects.
The city received a $250,000 grant from the governor for construction of the amphitheater at Frederick’s Landing. At the time, city officials said they hoped some of that money might also go to a possible boathouse along the Licking River and to a new ball field.
Wilder officials are enthusiastic about the NCC opportunity. Yet, so far, the challenge has been to find a site big enough.
High School sports regulations, set out by the Kentucky High School Athletics Association, requires 300 feet out to left field, 300 feet to right field and 350 feet to center field. Some leeway is allowed between 275 and 350 feet in the outfield if a ten-foot wall can be built within that range to compensate for the shorter distance.
Wilder looked first at a site near the popular Frederick’s Landing but found there were issues, not only with outfield distances, but also they discovered a problem with utility wires running overhead, not permitted by KHSAA regulations. Vance said the cost of building a retaining wall to keep fill in would also be prohibitive.
Finding the right location remains a challenge, but city officials have not given up. They have been exploring a second and even a third location, and right now are working through the necessary requirements and cost issues, said Vance.
"We want to work with them [NCC} because we feel this will bring something special to the city. And, we needed to replace the old ball field... We thought, we plan to spend the money for a smaller field, why not build one that can accommodate NCC as well? But, that’s the hard part — making it bigger."
Again, he said, the city is committed to replacing its field and trying to find a solution that could bring the NCC field to Wilder.