Luke Jensen Sports Park opening day inches closer

Organizers hope it will be ready for teams to play ball by March 17

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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To get an idea of how large the largest sports field is at Luke Jensen Sports Park, consider this: From home plate to the center field fence measures 340 feet.

At Safeco Field in Seattle, in comparison, a professional ballplayer needs to hit a ball just an extra 65 feet to get it over the center field wall.

The large synthetic turf also will be used for soccer, softball, football, lacrosse and field hockey, said Scot Brantley, sports field development coordinator for Vancouver-Clark Parks & Recreation.

And the synthetic turf means no rainouts, unless there’s lightning.

“This is so you can play 365 days a year,” said Brantley, as he walked on the turf last week and pointed out the color markings for different sports.

He already has a waiting list of teams wanting to use the field, even though the sports park remains under construction and won’t be open until March.

Opening day has been tentatively scheduled for March 17, said Jeff Mize, public information officer for Clark County Public Works.

Bud Van Cleve, president of the Northeast Hazel Dell Neighborhood Association, plans to be there.

“I think it’s going to be a great complex,” said Van Cleve. “It’s going to be one of the best things to happen to Hazel Dell in a long time.”

The 20-acre complex includes two grass Little League baseball fields and two smaller synthetic turf fields that will be used for T-ball and mini-mod soccer.

There will also be a playground, batting cages, walking trails, picnic tables, benches and bicycle racks. Restrooms will be in the ground floor of the two-story concession stand, an octagon-shaped building in the center of the complex. The second floor will have seats for scorekeepers and announcers, but the main room will be available for community gatherings.

“There’s nothing else like it in the area, and I don’t know anything like it in Portland, as nice as it is,” Van Cleve said.

The sports park sits in a visible spot, along Northeast 78th Street west of St. Johns Road, and Van Cleve said he receives lots of questions about the park.

Design and construction of the $9.1 million project will be paid for by the real estate excise tax, which is paid whenever property is sold. Basic maintenance of the park will be funded by the Greater Clark Parks District, a special district approved by voters in the unincorporated urban area of Clark County in 2005.

Users will pay, too. Fees will be used for maintenance and operations; turf will likely be replaced in a decade.

On Dec. 13, Clark County commissioners will vote on a proposed policy for operations and field use fees. The Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission recommended the fee schedule, which includes hourly fees of $25 to $35 for youth leagues, $35 to $45 for adult leagues and $45 to $55 for out-of-town squads.

The fields will be open for free public use when not reserved.

The project has not been without some controversy.

The land is a federal Superfund site because of chromium and volatile organic compounds in groundwater at least 50 feet beneath the surface. The Environmental Protection Agency said there’s no danger of exposure from building the ball fields.

In 2010, hearing examiner Dan Kerns said there’s no credible evidence supporting the idea that

contaminated groundwater will ever reach the surface.

The county has established conditions to mitigate significant environmental impact, including making sure field lights and the public address system won’t be used after 10 p.m.

Games will be staggered to help control traffic, and improvements include a sidewalk extension along Northeast 82nd Street. People will also be able to enter the park from 82nd Street, Brantley said.

Jack Davis, who lives in a townhouse immediately west of the complex, told commissioners at their Nov. 22 meeting that lights at the park were being left on at night.

Those lights are along the walkways leading to the concession stand, Brantley said. They are left on in the evening because there has been some vandalism, including a broken window.

Dave Ferguson, a project manager for Thompson Bros. Excavating, said a security guard checks on the site at night.

Ferguson said construction, which began in April, has been running behind schedule.

“The wet spring didn’t help,” he said. Crews were routinely farming the soil, but they still had to wait for it to dry.

Ferguson’s hopes the project will be finished on time, but said weather will play a big factor.

Primary users

Once the park does open, Salmon Creek Little League and Westside Soccer will be primary users. The youth leagues have already contributed to the park’s capital costs and will be credited accordingly when it comes to fees.

While young Salmon Creek ballplayers will come to Hazel Dell, members of Hazel Dell Little League will continue to play in Salmon Creek. That league has a long-term lease to use H.B. Fuller Park.

Clark County adult sports leagues will be given second priority, while all other teams — squads based outside of Clark County — can pay to play if fields are available.

Last year, county commissioners approved a memorandum of understanding between the county, Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation Department, Vancouver First Church of God and King’s Way Christian Schools.

The 25-year agreement sets out the terms for shared use of parking and fields, as well as maintenance.

Van Cleve said the park will be a lot of work to maintain. He has suggested that volunteers from the church and the neighborhood have regular cleanup days for the 6-acre park on the north side of the site.

But before supporters start making detailed plans about the upkeep, they want to celebrate the opening.

“I’m praying for incredible weather in mid-March,” said Mize. “If we do, we’ll have 300 boys out here in uniforms.”

Earlier this year, the commissioners approved naming the sports park in memory of Luke Jensen, who was first diagnosed with leukemia in 2007 and died in May 2010 at the age of 9.

Luke attended King’s Way schools, where his father, Steve, serves as the elementary principal.

A volunteer with Salmon Creek Little League suggested naming the park after Luke.

“It’s important to remember Luke Jensen,” Mize said. “This project is going to be an enduring tribute to a boy whose life was cut tragically short.”

Stephanie Rice: http://www.facebook.com/reporterrice;http://twitter.com/col_clarkgov;stephanie.rice@columbian.com.