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Faced with neglected fields, ball now in Schenectady City Council’s court

Faced with neglected fields, ball now in Schenectady City Council’s court

Input sought for fields in Bellevue, Michigan Avenue neighborhoods
Faced with neglected fields, ball now in Schenectady City Council’s court
Ed Varno of 4th Street in Schenectady sits on the bleachers on the neglected baseball field in Hillhurst Park in May.
Photographer: Peter Barber / Gazette Photographer

SCHENECTADY — Conditions at the city-owned park at Bellevue’s Fourth Street field drew ire earlier this spring from a neighborhood resident and a city councilman outraged at the lack of upkeep. 

Now the city is weighing what it would take to bring the fields back into acceptable playing condition — or at least scale back the uses in order to make maintenance more manageable in an era of limited resources.

Commissioner of General Services Paul LaFond acknowledged the long-standing agreements that saw local athletic leagues use the city's fields in exchange for maintenance upkeep have eroded alongside the shrinkage of the city's baseball culture.

The city has since absorbed the upkeep, he said, which can be a challenge with the glut of what he said are 700 city-owned properties. (Others have previously pegged the number at 1,000.)

Maintenance, LaFond said, is being conducted.

“It’s just not getting done in the time we want to see it done,” he said.

Last Monday, he asked the City Council’s Health and Recreation Committee to weigh future uses of the Fourth Street field at Hillhurst Park, where the long-neglected dugout and clubhouse are in a state of advanced disrepair.

“What is the ultimate goal we want to have for that field?” he asked lawmakers.

That future use would ideally drive a maintenance strategy for the facilities, he said. 

LaFond said he and city Engineer Chris Wallin will conduct a cost estimate for repairs and demolitions at Bellevue field, as well as the Michigan Avenue field in Mont Pleasant. 

“I can get you some numbers hopefully by your next meeting,” LaFond said last Monday.

LaFond floated the option of removing the fence and buildings at Bellevue field and converting the fields for activity that lends itself to broader recreational use beyond baseball and would require less maintenance.

Ed Varno, whose residence at the corner of Campbell Avenue and Fourth Street overlooks the field, said he was optimistic there was demand for future use of the field, citing discussions with young community leaders.

He’d like to see a gate-type structure remain.

“But the buildings need to come down," he said.

Councilman Vince Riggi initially raised the issue in May. He declined to stake out a position on the future of the fields, citing the pending evaluation. 

But he said if the city continued to lease out fields to outside organizations in exchange for maintenance agreements, the contracts should have stronger mechanisms to govern compliance, including the use of performance bonds.

Riggi has also long contended the city doesn’t have adequate manpower to maintain city-owned property.

LaFond acknowledged on Monday there are several seasonal positions that are open but remain unfilled.

“I think it’s important we’re filling the positions,” said City Council President Ed Kosiur. 

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