Neighbor questions locked gates at ballfield

Flanders Field in Harmar may soon be unlocked for community use during daylight hours after a Recreation Commission meeting that was held Monday on the issue.

The field is part of a municipal park that includes the ball field, playground and restrooms. In 1986, the commission turned the operation of the fields over to the Marietta Softball Association, said city recreation clerk Susan Joyce.

After the Little Sluggers team entered the picture in 2012, wanting to lease the field for their use for $1 a year for a five year period, they entered into an agreement with the softball association and started making improvements to the field, upgrading dugouts and restrooms.

Since the improvements have been made, the gates have been locked except during games, closing out the public.

Andrea Lisovich, 44, who lives right next to the park, attended the meeting and said finding the field locked came as a surprise.

“I never knew the field was going to be locked up after (the Little Sluggers) fixed the field up,” she said. “My daughter used to (go there). She played softball and took her little cousin (and they would practice)…She got their balls and gloves in a bucket and went to the park. She came back and said, ‘Mom, it’s locked.’ I said, ‘It’s a public park; it can’t be locked.’ But it was.”

She said the field is a draw, but so is a lot of the area that is behind the gates.

“The kids of Harmar have used not only just the playing field, but also the grassy area in back and now they’re locked out of it. If you’re playing basketball and the ball goes over the fence, kids are forced to climb the fence to get the ball. That’s a liability issue and issue of a child getting hurt.”

Marietta Councilman Tom Vukovic, D-4th Ward, said he had received complaints about the field being locked and thought limiting use of when the field is open to just practices or games of the Little Sluggers team isn’t the right thing to do.

“The major issue is how to get the fields unlocked for use by people in the Harmar area,” Vukovic said. “The meeting was held at my request because I’ve been persistent in requiring that that field be open.”

Commission member Sam Gwinn said he agrees with Vukovic’s viewpoint.

“(The Sluggers) have done a lot of good work over there, but they also put locks on the gates so the neighborhood could not use it,” Gwinn said. “(Vukovic) thought that in the daytime, it should be open, and I totally agree…I think you ought to accommodate all the people you can accommodate; we just don’t want to see it locked up all the time.”

Vukovic said a big issue he had at the meeting is the wording that the field has been “leased.”

“In order for a lease to be granted, that is a power council has,” he said, adding, “The Sluggers have done a very good job of restoring baseball to the Flanders Field.”

He said his main purpose is just getting the field open.

“My whole goal doing this is to make sure kids can use the field,” said Vukovic. “The deed (deeding the field over to the city) says (the field is) ‘for a public baseball ground and for public playground and other purposes of recreation’ and that is forever.”

Commission Chairwoman Connie Grimes said she does not object to the fields being open during the day.

“I think they should be locked at night, like other softball fields, for safety reasons,” she said. “I have no problem with it being unlocked during the day…We certainly didn’t want to keep kids away from the park.”

Grimes said a major concern is the work the Sluggers have put into the park and the possibility of vandalism, and Vukovic said that is a valid concern.

“It doesn’t need to be open at night,” he said. “Vandalism can happen and kids don’t need to be in the dugouts.”

Vukovic said an idea that came out of the meeting is possibly giving neighbors of the park gate keys.

“The whole issue is what’s it going to take to get this field open,” he said. “(We’re looking at) some neighbors who may be willing to work with the Sluggers to be turnkeys to open up and close the gates.”

Grimes also mentioned that with the Boys and Girls Club using the field this summer, it “should be unlocked” for public use.

She said that Tuesday, the recreation commission is going to meet with the Little Sluggers at the park at 5 p.m. to discuss the different possibilities and what happened at the meeting.

Vukovic said Charles Flanders, who deeded the land to the city, would be happy the field is being used.

“It’s (for) the people on the west side,” he said. “It was the first park (there) and really the only park in Harmar…But right now it’s not open to the public, but it’s going to happen; that’s my hope.”