More than a few years of planning and fundraising will come to fruition Monday afternoon when local stakeholders gather at Recreation Park in Chehalis for the ceremonial groundbreaking of the first phase of an approximately $4 million overhaul of the facility slated for completion by fall 2020.
Prep work to replace the four infields at the softball and youth baseball complex with artificial turf is already underway, with the goal of finishing the weather-dependent installation by February. A brief ceremony at 3 p.m. Monday next to the concession stand at the sports complex will mark the official undertaking of long-sought improvements to the popular park.
Replacement of the Penny Playground equipment installed 25 years ago by an army of local volunteers is the other major part of the remodel.
“It’s exciting and a little tempered, because I grew up here,” said Tim Sayler, president of the Chehalis Foundation. “I spent much of my youth at Recreation Park and change is hard from that point of view, but our kids deserve this, our girls teams deserve this, everyone deserves a nice park. That’s what they’re going to get.”
The turf portion of the overall renovation, which includes new drainage and irrigation for all four fields, is estimated to cost about $2.3 million. It will be funded in part by $800,000 from the Ingwersen Trust as well as a $350,000 Youth Athletic Facilities grant from the state Recreation and Conservation Office.
Wall credited state Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, with assisting the City of Chehalis and Chehalis Foundation in receiving that grant, as well as an additional $758,000 in state funding for Recreation Park. Lodging tax dollars received by the city as well as numerous private donations will also be put toward the renovations — mostly in the form of repayments for about $900,000 of debt taken on by the city for the project.
“A lot of work by a lot of people has gone into this,” Sayler sad. “I grew up here, so it’s exciting, but there’s also a certain nostalgia to the way it was. We’re all going to miss that, but what we’re doing now is creating new memories for the next generation. To be able to see the next generation of kids and adults able to enjoy it more than ever will be really worth the effort.”
The project nearly hit a snag this summer related to the timing of federal dollars that would likely have delayed it for an entire year if not for the help of U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler.
State officials informed the City of Chehalis in July that funding from the National Park Service would be delayed, causing delivery of state funds approved in the 2019-2021 capital budget to be delayed as well. According to a press release from Herrera Beutler’s office, she contacted the National Park Service after the Chehalis Foundation asked her for help expediting the process.
The NPS issued a waiver for the Recreation Park funds on July 29, allowing the state to release those funds to Chehalis. In the press release, Herrera Beutler applauded the work of the Chehalis Foundation and City of Chehalis to make Recreation Park a safe and accessible resource for Lewis County children and families.
“The improvements to the drainage combined with the synthetic fields will double the length of the playing season and restore the facility as a popular summer-long site for fastpitch and youth baseball tournaments,” Chehalis Mayor Dennis Dawes stated in the Chehalis Foundation press release. “We estimate annual revenue benefits to the community of nearly $1 million a year associated with lodging, restaurant business and other economic activity generated by visitors from tournaments who come for the park amenities. It will also create a first-class facility for our state championship caliber high school fastpitch program.”
Unlike the more elaborate celebration earlier this year at Recreation Park that included items from a time capsule buried to mark the initial construction of Penny Playground and more than a half-dozen speakers, Monday’s affair will not include that level of pomp and circumstance.
Wall said a few local officials, including Dawes and City Manager Jill Anderson will give brief remarks. Sayler will speak as well prior to the moving of dirt. There will be a second groundbreaking event to begin construction of the new Penny Playground at a date to be determined.
Phase one of the renovations will also include installation of new all-weather walkways throughout the park and a number of other small-scale improvements. Wall said that crews will work around the playground setting in order to keep it open through the fall.
“Our goal is to have those fields ready for the high school teams in February,” Wall said. “So that was really important for us to this project being able to meet the deadlines we set. Working with our contractor, we really feel like we should be done by the end of October, before the bad weather hits.”
To follow the construction process or to donate to the cause, visit chehalisfoundation.org. Commemorative pennies bearing the names of donors can also be purchased at the website.
“We’ve reached our initial goal to get the project done, but there are always things you can do to make things better,” Sayler said. “We would certainly welcome anyone in the community with an interest in making things better. You’re only limited by your funds, and we always want to take advantage of that.”