Stepping up to the plate

Design and construction community comes together for the big win

As the 2006 major league season wore down, seven players in the construction industry and two from other sectors teamed up to build a baseball field for mentally and physically challenged kids here in Vancouver. Miraculous? Project organizer Art Liss thinks so.

"I think you’ve got something here that’s a lot more mystical and magical than people would think," said Liss of the project, which began in 2004 as a mere "wouldn’t it be nice" notion for the dedicated Little League coach.

The Miracle League of Southwest Washington, part of a nationwide network started in Conyers, Ga. in 1999, is on target to have the field – to be located at the Harmony Sports Complex on Northeast 192nd Avenue just south of Northeast 18th Street – up and running by the winter of next year.

Uniquely enabling

What will make the field unique and friendly to kids with special challenges will be the material; both the outfield and the infield will be made of a rubberized mat, making falls, slips and bounces just part of the fun. Groundbreaking is planned for Sept. 8, 2007. When completed, it will be one of 140 like fields nationwide, only 60 of which include the rubberized material, all dedicated to giving children with disabilities the chance to play baseball. To give the project a home, Clark County included Miracle League of Southwest Washington on a 20-year use agreement lease in 2004, partnering the organization with Cascade Little League and Orchards Soccer, as well as adding the .92 acres necessary for the new field.

Vancouver-based engineering and planning firm Hopper Dennis Jellison has donated time and energy to help plan and design the 39,000-square-foot facility, and will submit the site plan to the county for approval. Such services are valued at nearly $100,000. Landscape Architecture Section Manager Douglas Lee said the decision to participate was born of community spirit.

"We all live and work in a community here, and we wanted to give back to the community through a worthy cause," Lee said.

The facility will stand apart from conventional ballparks in that the field will be dropped five feet below ground level to allow for better viewing from a two-level terraced lawn spectator area, incorporated to allow the physically challenged or anyone else to enjoy the game in that setting. Traditional bleachers are also an element of the design, and the entire spectator section will accommodate more than 100 fans. Also, a ramp will be included to allow access from the bleachers and terrace to the field, letting players take the field in grand style. The entire complex will be designed around a central round-about, with curved pedestrian walkways framing the park. The architects also chose to use pervious concrete for the entire park. This is a porous mix which allows rain water to drain directly through and into the earth below, eliminating any pooling or danger from slippery surfaces.

Permitting plans are expected to be in county hands by the end of November.

A rallying cry

Drew Miller is general manager of Washougal-based George Schmid & Sons Excavating. His company leaped from the bench when called by Vancouver-based Team Construction to help with planning.

"That’s how you work in a community," Miller said. "I believe it will be a great facility, and what we’re going to give to help is whatever they need."

Southwest Washington Contractors Association Executive Director Daryl Dennis said his organization has vowed to see the nascent project through to completion. He’s the project’s Babe Ruth, pointing to the outfield fence before taking his swing.

"Whatever it takes to build this project, we’ll do it," Dennis said. "It’s real preliminary right now, but we’re gonna make it happen."

Making it happen will require not only volunteer hours and professional know-how, but money. So far, the State Legislature, as a result of lobbying from Representative Deb Wallace (D-17) has given $57,000 to the project.

"Deb Wallace was the spark that lit this project," Liss said. "The figures are evolving, but the project has about a $1 million price tag."

Liss said the field by itself will cost $300,000, with the parking lot weighing in at $400,000, and the pavilion and stadium running nearly another $300,000. Much of these expenses are being met through the sweat equity of the volunteers.

"I think we almost have our hands on top of this just between time and labor and materials," he said. "And that’s before fundraising."

A September golf tournament sponsored by Cascade Little League and held at Camas Meadows netted $20,000. These proceeds were shared by both groups. Next up is a Dec.14 event sponsored by Nautilus and held at the company’s Vancouver headquarters. The dinner and reception will also feature auction items and some surprises, say organizers.

"This should complete the ballgame and not require extra innings," said Liss.

An unconventional workforce

The Oregon National Guard is committed to deploying up to 120 soldiers to help with the project. They’re coming from Oregon because their Washington comrades are occupied overseas. The guard will commit two companies from the 1249th Engineer Battalion. The soldiers will perform concrete and earth moving work, as well as some vertical construction. They come to the project as part of the Guard’s Innovative Readiness Training Program, which allows troops to participate in community programs as part of their training.

"We’re using training dollars," said Battalion S3 Capt. Shawn Martin. "So, it was either here or go dig holes somewhere. It’s a better way for us to train."

While on the job, Martin’s troops will take their orders from Team Construction, the general contractor.

"It’s a wonderful project," said Team Construction Project Manager Shawnie Samwell. "It’s not typical at all, getting all the people involved and working together."

Samwell said she was interested to learn that the troops stand a chance of being pulled away and deployed for combat duty at any stage of the project.

"And how often do you get to work with our forces on a project?" she said. "That’s what I’m thinking is really great."

Organizers expect to have player registration available on their Web site,, by Jan. 1, and will also have uniforms and equipment in place at that time. While participation fees will be similar to those in conventional little league, board members are determined not to let money be a barrier for families with special needs.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.