Municipality gets field after many delays
Nearly 10 years and about $500,000 later, a field of dreams finally has become a reality in Penn Hills.
But Caldarelli Field has had its share of nightmares along the way for Penn Hills Little League Baseball organizers and municipal officials, who have sunk more than $350,000 in federal grants into the project.
These include delays related to federally designated wetlands, sewer hookups and even an archaeological dig for an ancient burial ground.
‘When we started this project in the early 1990s, my kid was 9 years old,’ recalled Ray Rall, president of the Penn Hills Baseball Association, with about 600 players. ‘He’s going to be 18 next year, and he’s probably done with baseball.’
Since April, Little League teams have been playing games on the two new fields at Caldarelli – named after the property owner who allowed the original backstop to be built there.
But a formal dedication ceremony scheduled for last weekend was canceled by league officials who want to see the rest of the complex completed, including what will be the new league headquarters.
‘Right now, it’s not as presentable as we would like it to be,’ a somewhat disappointed Rall said. ‘I’ve been working on the project for so long, I guess I’m anxious. There’s not a lot of work left.’
A section of the municipality – Milltown – where residents used to walk from their homes down to their jobs in the mines qualifies as a low- to moderate income neighborhood which makes it eligible for the federal Community Development Block Grant program.
The municipality initially allocated $150,000 in CDBG money for the field in 1996, however the first bid came in at $205,000. The 9.2 acres of land itself cost $12,500, bought by the municipality from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, which once considered the land for a garage.
At that point, the federal government ordered the archaeological study to ascertain if the area was an ancient burial ground.
‘It turned out that it wasn’t, but then in the process, the government came back and said that there were wetlands areas that had to be protected,’ Rall said.
But because of an oversight by the contractor who was clearing trees from the wooded portion of the property – at an additional cost of $25,000 – trees in the wetlands areas that should have been left standing were chopped down.
Today, there are two small fenced-in areas in the gravel parking lot that are federally set-aside wetland areas. The wetlands study itself cost about $20,000.
‘Isn’t that ridiculous?’ Penn Hills Councilman Bob Sevcik said of the current arrangement. ‘And it turns out that if we’d have known about it, we could have bought those wetlands out and relocated them somewhere else, which is also permitted under federal regulations.’
In all, the municipality has spent more than $350,000 in CDBG funds on Caldarelli ballfield. The league has used its original building fund which contained about $60,000, and there have also been state grants.
But most recently, the municipality agreed to co-sign on a $25,000 interest-free bank loan to cover the cost of finishing touches on the field. That is expected to be paid back at a rate of about $5,000 a year.
‘We can just about cover that with the $4,000 a year we’ll be saving to rent a basement for the league headquarters on Frankstown Road,’ Rall said, adding that the municipality will also be receiving a percentage of concession stand sales in the new league building.
And while the building has yet to be completed and rain has slowed construction, the fields have already proven to be advantageous.
‘We also fought to get underdrainage at the field with gravel,’ Rall said. ‘The surface is Diamond Pro, which is what they use at the Little League championships in Williamsport.’
Rall noted that there was a tournament scheduled for Memorial Day weekend at both Caldarelli and Friendship baseball fields. But heavy rains ‘wiped out’ the field at Friendship.
‘We wound up playing all of the games at Caldarelli,’ Rall said.
Sevcik said that in the event of a heavy thunderstorm, the field can still be made ready for play in two hours.
Another issue that surfaced was a sewer tie-in. The league had to buy a $3,100 grinder pump to run its sewer line over the one from Plum Borough that blocks at connection with the Penn Hills trunk line.
That’s the only cost to tie into the Penn Hills system, as opposed to Plum, where there would have been a $2,000 tap-in fee and a monthly charge.
There might also be room for a third smaller field, suitable for the Mite and Farm leagues.
Rall said he plans to remain with the league for a few more years.
‘I feel like I have a commitment here to see this project to the end,’ Rall said. ‘I’ve had a hand in this for so long that I would hate to see it turned over to somebody else to finish.’
Sevcik echoed those sentiments, saying that ‘without Ray, this project probably would have died five years ago.’
Tom Jewell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (412) 380-8516.