County grant may pay for baseball stadium lights in Richfield

A group of baseball boosters are seeking funds to pay for the baseball stadium lights that drew the ire of some district residents last summer.

The Richfield School Board unanimously approved a grant application Oct. 15 that asks for $264,600 from the Hennepin County Youth Sports Program to help fund an additional phase of improvements to the Richfield High School baseball field, which is already under renovation using funds from a separate grant.

While the entire sum requested in the new grant application is not expected to be awarded, the amount that is received could go toward a storage garage, batting cage, bullpen, windscreens and foul poles for the stadium.

But standing out the most in the application, which is being submitted by a booster group called the Dugout Club, the grant could pay for the lights that have already been installed this fall at the field.

Those lights elicited derision among some observers when the school board in June approved a lease-purchase agreement for the feature while facing budget cuts elsewhere in the district. Under the multi-year agreement, the district is to use funds generated from the rental of the recently upgraded RHS football field to pay $212,000 toward the lights and a new scoreboard

Depending on the amount awarded, the grant could be used to entirely fund the lights or to partially offset the cost, according to Richfield Athletic Director Todd Olson. If the grant money completely pays for the lights, the pool of funds designated toward the lights could go instead toward the other desired stadium improvements, Olson added.

The application asks for $185,000 for the base cost of the lights, $32,000 for the batting cage, $25,000 for the storage garage, $4,700 for the bullpen, $12,300 for the windscreens, $4,800 for the 30-foot-tall foul poles and $800 for lining along the top of the field’s fence.

District cost?

The grant will also require matching funds, but that money will not come from the district, Olson said, because the investment the district already made into the lights will be accepted as a portion of required matching dollars. The Dugout Club has pledged $10,000 toward matching funds, and also will ask for money from the Twins Community Fund.

The potential cost was the subject of confusion before the board approved the grant application last week. While information packets provided to board members said the grant request was for “about $264,000,” the specific resolution before the board said the grant request was for $189,600, with the district responsible for $75,000 in matching funds.

The board approved the resolution anyway, with the understanding that, should the district in fact be responsible for the matching funds, it could choose not to accept a grant award. Olson, who was not present at the meeting, later told the Sun-Current, “the district is not putting forth that additional $75,000.”

Last year the Dugout Club received a grant for more than $240,000 from the Hennepin County Youth Sports Organization that helped fund the current renovation. The Dugout Club and the Twins Community Fund each contributed $10,000 toward the required $75,000 in matching funds, while Richfield Bloomington Credit Union put forth $40,000. The Richfield School District contributed $15,000 to the  match, Olson said.

That project will increase the stadium’s handicapped accessibility, add a new press box and bleachers and replace the dugout roofs, and is expected to be substantially complete by the end of the month.