A January 13 wind storm caused severe damage to Butler Park, and also threatened the immediate future of baseball in Greater Trail.
The storm toppled a number of trees onto the park, crushing a storage shed and surrounding fencing. The conifers also brought down netting and took out an 85-foot-long stadium light standard, which illuminated an even bigger problem.
“The concrete poles are no longer structurally sound and pose a risk of catastrophic failure without warning,” reads a Jan. 25 report to Trail council by engineering technician Kyle McCormick.
A Dec. 20 inspection by McCormick found extensive vertical cracking and concrete spalling on the inside of the poles, to the point that daylight could be seen through some of the cracks. There was also extensive corrosion of the cables and de-bonding of the concrete structure at the foot of the poles.
The light standards were first installed at the park in 1980 and over the years their condition has deteriorated. A number of city inspections has documented their decline to the point that all 18 light poles will have to be removed for safety reasons.
As a result, Trail council considered four options, all of which included shutting down the park for the year, much to the disappointment of Trail Youth Baseball (TYB) organizers Jim Maniago, Wayne Florko, and Keith DeWitt, who attended the virtual council meeting.
“What we were told is that the lights are coming down and that they have staff looking into other options to keep the park open,” TYB president Jim Maniago told the Times. “Staff had originally recommended closing the park for at least this year and likely longer as the recommendation was to put up 90-foot netting around the perimeter of the park which would have been very costly.”
Maniago noted that few parks have netting that high, and no matter what you do, baseballs leave parks.
“If we had to cancel this season and possibly more it would likely kill minor baseball in Trail,” he said.
Chief Administrative Officer David Perehudoff acknowledged that the city was aware the poles were in bad shape, but had no functional issues with them.
“It wasn’t until they were inspected in December 2020 that it became evident that cracking and deterioration had gotten worse and the poles had to be more immediately addressed,” said Perehudoff.
“Within the city’s five year capital plan, a $1M expense was included for 2022. With the last condition assessment completed as well as one of the poles falling over in the windstorm, it became evident that the city had to take more immediate action and take down the poles.”
Replacing the 18 poles with stadium lighting and netting ranged in estimates from $1.35 M to over $2M, and although Maniago said lights are integral to playing games and hosting tournaments throughout the summer, Trail Youth Baseball could make it work.
“We would like the park to remain open so the kids could play and we can work together to replace the lights and netting if that is required,” said Maniago. “Not having lights severely impacts our season and we won’t be able to run our usual program the way we like it but we’ll figure it out in the short term.”
Council ultimately deferred their decision on the netting and referred the matter back to staff for review. Council approved a $125,000 budget to remove existing light poles and expects the work to be completed by the end of February.
“Depending on how council decides to proceed with pole and net replacement, the design will incorporate the opportunity to install lighting,” added Perehudoff. “Funding will be the biggest hurdle to overcome and, as indicated, hopefully the city or youth baseball is able to access grant funding that would make any future project more feasible.”
Greater Trail is one of the most passionate and successful baseball towns in B.C. and not having a lighted facility is a significant hurdle to keeping leagues going and growing the game.
“Long term we need lights,” said Maniago. “Aside from the fact that kids love playing under the lights and the draw that is for kids to play, we could not host tournaments or any provincial or Western Canadian championship for the Orioles without lights.
“We are pushed for park time as it is and don’t have enough space to practice when the house leagues are running. So without lights it’s going to be a challenge, but we’ll figure it out to keep the kids playing.”
Butler Park has hosted the Babe Ruth Provincials, Pacific Northwest Championships, American Legion playoffs, and the 1995 Senior Babe Ruth World Series, not to mention numerous senior men’s provincial and Western Canadian championships.
It produced the 2019 West Kootenay ‘A’ Orioles, the only Butler Park based team to win the Washington State ‘A’ Baseball championship.
Butler was also selected as a finalist in Canada’s Favourite Ballpark contest in 2011.