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Thursday, February 29, 2024
Feb. 29, 2024

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Sports field assessment back on table in Camas

City officials to mull contract that could secure grant

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CAMAS — A plan to assess the state of Camas’ sports fields is back on the table months after the city council derailed a Parks and Recreation Department contract.

“In October of last year, I presented to you a contract with MacKay Sposito to do a full assessment of all of our fields, providing a chance to speak with other partners — east Vancouver, school districts, Clark County and the city of Washougal — taking a look at the infrastructure and understanding the capacities and levels of service,” Parks and Recreation Director Trang Lam told the Camas City Council on Monday.

Three of the current council members — Tim Hein, Leslie Lewallen and Jennifer Senescu — and former Councilor Don Chaney voted Oct. 16 against the $124,000 sports field contract, which had already been included in the city’s 2023-24 general fund budget.

Council members said the October decision was based on new data that said sluggish home sales and new home construction had led to an unanticipated shortfall in the city’s expected property and sales tax revenues. Camas Mayor Steve Hogan halted the hiring of 22 new city employees due to the projections.

“When I saw the (mayor’s proposed 2024 budget) didn’t include anything for police sergeants, firefighters, police officers, I couldn’t think consultation for sports fields at this time is a good use of our resources,” Senescu said.

That decision, however, had unintended consequences for the city, including the possibility that Camas could miss out on more than $1 million in state grants meant to improve sports fields throughout Washington.

“This is a new grant with one-time funding in 2024, and possible funding in 2025,” Lam said Monday. “We can ask for up to $1.2 million without having a match.”

‘A really good story’

Although 20 percent of the grant application will be based on Census data showing need, Lam said the majority of the grant application will be based on each city’s narrative and the impact of the grant money.

“Eighty percent is narrative, and we can tell a really good story,” Lam told Parks and Recreation Commission members in January. “One of the ways to tell a good story is to do an assessment and do that work to get that data.”

Lam said the sports field assessment would show the state’s Recreation and Conservation Office, the grant provider, that the city of Camas was serious about improving its sports fields to meet the community’s current and future needs.

Lam explained that the city “has a collection of grass fields that serve youth and adult baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse and rugby; and a handful of outdoor courts that serve tennis, pickleball and basketball. Over the last several years, this region has experienced very wet spring seasons, which have negatively impacted the grass fields and shortened the practice and playing season for leagues.”

Lam told the council on Monday that she has been meeting with field users and leaders in nearby jurisdictions for more than a year.

“We have nine parks, and none of them are up to par right now,” Lam said. “I’ve been having conversations in the community for a year and a half now and have engaged with the city of Washougal, with Camas School District, with our leagues and with people who don’t have fields right now, like sand volleyball players, who say they would be willing to help pay for use if we had one. There has been a lot of hard work to get people ready to come to the table and help solve the problem.”

Lam said there is limited time to turn in the pre-application for the grant even if city officials approve the sports field contract during the council’s meeting Feb. 20.

“We will have about five and a half weeks to turn this around,” Lam said.

Having work started on the sports field assessment would improve the city’s chances if it is selected to proceed to the second round of the grant application process.

“The contract before you is really a road map of how to improve our system in general and work with our partners,” Lam said.

The cost of the contract’s sports field assessment — which now includes concept-planning work on Forest Home Park to support the Recreation and Conservation Office grant application narrative — is $144,965. If approved Feb. 20, MacKay Sposito consultants would work on the assessment for the next eight months; create a public participation plan to engage community members and sports field stakeholders; conduct site visits to gather data on Camas’ sports fields; draft a citywide sports field plan; and support the city in its grant application process.

Lam said Monday that although the state is not requiring matching funds for the $1.2 million grants, local Little Leagues have raised some money to dedicate toward Camas’ baseball fields.

“So with that match, we might be able to score a little bit higher,” Lam said.

Senescu, who opposed funding the field assessment in October 2023, said she had since talked with Lam and Little League leaders about the contract’s benefits for Camas.

“I would like to thank Trang and Little League for educating me on what’s going on with these fields,” Senescu said Monday. “This is a huge endeavor, and now that I’ve looked at every aspect, I feel that $144,000 is a reasonable starting point.”

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