City officials vowed Tuesday to seek alternatives for youth sports programs, after City Council members, under the threat of litigation, voted 6-0 Monday night to close the Athletic Complex. Councilman Mitchell Jordan was absent for the vote.
The complex, in the northern part of the city, has been a community staple since its dedication in 1982.
Cloer said the city had not yet considered contingency plans for youth sports programs this season.
“We just made this decision last night,” she told the Herald-Press Tuesday. “However, the city of Elkhart has already reached out to us, and we will be going over other options.
“Residents should know this decision was not made willingly. We weighed all our options with the city attorney before coming to this unfortunate decision.”
Cloer said city workers will refund groups already registered for the fall season.
That was small consolation for some angry city residents. “In Palestine, kids have two options,” said resident James Boltz. “They can go to the movies, or they can play sports. Half their options have just been taken away.”
Boltz, 34, a UPS supervisor, has coached for 17 years in the Anderson County youth football league, where professional football player Adrian Peterson once played.
“These organized sports are more than extracurricular activities,” Boltz said. “They teach kids teamwork, loyalty, friendship, and many other life lessons.
“Some of these kids don’t come from the best backgrounds, either. By taking away the one thing that might have kept them off the streets, what are we telling them?”
Palestine resident Amanda Stampley, a registered nurse, said her kids used the complex, and her grandchildren were entering their third year of playing sports there.
“It’s ridiculous,” she said. “I’ve pushed strollers through those fields multiple times. They have tiny wheels, not big ones, like on a wheelchair, and I had no problems.”
The 37-year-old complex, city officials said, violates the 2010 Americans with Disabilities Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG). Bringing the complex into compliance with federal law, they said, could cost several million dollars – way too much for a city facing multi-million-dollar projects to repair the city’s crumbling infrastructure.
To bring the facility into compliance, virtually everything at the complex, including fields, lights, dugouts, parking lots, and bleachers would have to be replaced, Mayor Steve Presley said.
Similar projects in other cities have run upwards of $3 million.
In the suit brought against the city in June, resident Michael Ivy said people with disabilities did not have equal access to the public facility because of its design.
The lawsuit asks for an unspecified amount. The settlement, Cloer said, will be based on the number of infractions found. A hearing is scheduled for Oct. 7.
“No one wanted this; we were forced into this decision,” Cloer said. “We owe our residents a sound infrastructure. No one needs anything to happen like it did in April, when the city was left without drinkable water for days, because of necessary infrastructure repair.”
The 2010 American Disabilities guidelines do not grandfather in public facilities.
“I’d bet the majority of playing fields in the state aren’t in compliance,” Presley said. “What we’re going to see now are lawyers looking for a payday, suing cities and forcing them to close down facilities for our kids.”