Bay has big plans for McDonald Field

For generations, McDonald Field – occupying a Bay St. Louis city block bordered by Dunbar, Ulman and Caroll avenues – was an oasis of sorts for the Bay’s youth, the only girls softball field in the city. Since Hurricane Katrina, it has been a trailer park for volunteer groups, and then a repository for dirt and construction equipment. Now it stands largely empty, save for a wall of palm trees lining the street on the Dunbar side.

All that is about to change.

The Bay St. Louis City Council has adopted the Bay Parks & Recreation Commission’s recommendation to make the field a multi-use family park, complete with splash pad, a KaBoom! Park, gazebos and picnic areas.

The plan has not been without controversy.

The 11-member Parks & Recreation Commission includes Lonnie Falgout, chairman; Regan Kane, vice-chairman; Julie Scianna, secretary; Rachael Ramsey, treasurer; Leo Seal; Mike Gemelli; Louis Dunklin; Willie Acker; Ruth O’Dwyer; Tom Williams; and Galen Smith.

While Falgout – the public face of the commission – has championed the multi-use family park concept, Ramsey has publicly and steadfastly criticized the plan.

In a letter to the Sea Coast Echo, Ramsey said the park plan as submitted to the city council will be far too costly – between $600,000 and $750,000 – and is unfair to the city’s girls, who still don’t have their own softball field back nearly five years after Katrina.

Fillingame said he appreciates Rasey’s concerns, but her point is moot – the commission outvoted her, the council has approved the concept and is already in the process of getting local archiitects to take a look at the commission’s preliminary designs.

.”We’re in great need of recreational facilities,” Fillingame said. “We’ve never really had a sufficient number of municipal parks. We’ve never had a public swimming pool. We’ve never had a public gymnasium. There are all kinds of sports we’ve never accommodated.

“Most of that is not achieved until you put forth a vision of what you want to achieve. I have really encouraged the recreation commission to think outside the box.”

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to use McDonald Field as a springboard to get other neighborhoods excited about their own parks,” and the changes that will happen there, as well.

“Of course, all of this comes with a price tag,” Falgout said, “but we feel the city needs to compete to provide better facilities for kids in all of our neighborhoods.

“The city council charged us with developing first-class facilities for the children and residents of this town. With that, of course, comes the possibility of bringing in tourists and bringing in other programs.”

In addition to the FEMA and CDBG money to seed the project, the city will explore a number of other funding avenues, Fillingame said, including corporate donations.

“Don’t think BP isn’t number one on my list,” he said.

Falgout is hoping the newly-christened McDonald Park can be completed by the end of this year and allow the commission to move forward with its other plans, such as a splash pad at Martin Luther King Jr. Park off Washington Street and the first real municipal recreational facilities in wards 5 and 6.

“We’re also helping the Bay Youth Football League develop Commagere Park to make ti their own football stadium,” Falgout said. “That should be on line by September.

“Also, we’re going to start up a girls’ softball program in 2011 and we’re looking at ideas and avenues to develop a girls’ softball complex behind the existing sports ocmplex.

“We’re in discussion with the U.S. Tennis Association about having a possible tennis complex somewhere within city limits. (But) We’re not just a sports-related commission – we have a sub-committee exploring non-sporting activities, such as sewing, chess, martial arts and music.

The commission is also exploring the possibility of buying or creating a multi-use public building that would provide indoor facilities for the Babe Ruth program, basketball courts, study rooms and after-school programs.

“It will take us years to achieve a lot of our goals,” Fillingame said, “but you’ve got to get started somewhere.”

BY: Geoff  Belcher

The Sea Coast Echo

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