EAST PALESTINE — A move by the local school district to use ball fields in Unity Township would be a devastating one for the park, one member of council said.

Councilman DJ Yokley said the village knew the fields at the park were bad, but didn’t do anything to keep the district from going elsewhere.

“We saw this coming seven months ago. Here it is, it is right on our doorstep and it has already passed us by,” he said.

School Superintendent Traci Hostetler said earlier this month the district was exploring the possibility of moving baseball and softball games and practices to the Next Level facility in Unity Township.

The athletic events have been held at the fields in village park and the district generally performed mowing and other routine maintenance just prior to the start of each season.

Hostetler had said the benefits of moving are having access to fields with no drainage problems, no required maintenance by the district, and a concession stand that would benefit the district, among other things.

Next Level provides both indoor and outdoor playing fields while the park only offers outdoor fields.

Yokley said he had also heard that the East Palestine Youth Sports Association (EPYSA) was going to follow suit and use the facility as well.

“It’s a great opportunity for our kids to be at the facility at Next Level … but it is unfortunate for us because we are losing not only the baseball and softball teams but we are losing the business, the foot traffic through town who are not going to be there,” Yokley said.

Councilman Alan Cohen said he was surprised and disappointed at learning the EPYSA would no longer use the fields either.

He wasn’t sure how to fix the problem, however, since he said there is no guarantee that fixing the fields would bring the district back.

“The difficulty is the village is not in the same position as a business. We have no way to come up with the income to do that. Whatever money we put into it, we are not guaranteed we are going to get a return on it,” he said.

Yokley estimated that fixing the fields would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“We knew this was coming. Having those people from out of town come in and see our park is a real asset,” Councilman Don Elzer said.

Village Manager Pete Monteleone said that maintaining the fields has been difficult due to a shortage of park employees.

“Even when we had the county summer help we had a hard time keeping up with the park. This year without the county help we have basically two full-time positions and one park employee,” Monteleone said.

Like others around the county, the village had help each year through the summer youth employment program through the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

The program ended last year after the state decided to redirect the federal public assistance money elsewhere.

“I agree we want to keep kids of all levels playing baseball at the park, but it’s just really hard with three people maintaining the park,” Monteleone said.

Yokley said he is also upset with the lack of communication between the village and school district and also said that people are wondering why the village could upgrade the tennis courts but not invest in the ball fields.

“We are gaining varsity tennis and we are losing 10 levels of baseball and softball,” he said.

Cohen said the reason the village is able to upgrade the tennis courts is because of the money available through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources grant that could only go toward permanent capital improvements — which maintenance of the fields would not fall under.

Monteleone said the village does communicate with the school district, but for whatever reason the district opted not to inform the village of the decision to move.

Following the discussion it was decided that a meeting would be held at 6 p.m. Jan. 8 before the regular council meeting to discuss the matter, with school district officials and EPYSA members invited to attend.

kwhite@mojonews.com published Morning Journal News 12/18/17