Neighbors, Foundation Unable to Reach Agreement on Dugouts

Woodbrook Community Association directors and Carson Raymond Foundation officials met Thursday evening in a fourth attempt to reach an agreement with the Foundation and local school officials on the future of the field at Woodbrook Elementary School. Regular readers of this blog may recall that the community has been meeting with the Foundation since last November on the issue. WCA directors are unanimously opposed to the construction of concrete block dugouts.

Two Dugout Designs
Two dugout designs. On the left a concrete block design proposed by the Carson Raymond Foundation. On the right, an open design preferred by some neighbors. Many Woodbrook residents are opposed to the construction of dugouts of any kind.

Representing the Foundation were President John Raymond and member Daren Lynch. Assistant Superintendent Dr. Bruce Benson and Director of Building Services Joseph Letteri represented Albemarle County Schools. Outgoing principal Dr. William Sterrett represented the school. Woodbrook Community Association directors Susan Reed (President), John Donnadio (Vice-President), Cristiane França (Co-Secretary) and Mary Hobson (Treasurer) represented the neighborhood.

Dr. Sterrett opened the meeting with a review of events to date. Daren Lynch then presented the Foundation’s latest plans. Dugout length has been reduced from 20 feet to 18 feet. At this size Mr. Lynch believes that these dugouts would be the smallest in the area. The size of the back wall was reduced to 2 feet 10 inches to increase visibility from the rear. The overall height of the proposed dugouts would be 9 feet 1 inch in the front and 7 feet 8 1/2 inches in the back. The roof and trim would be in earth tones, the split-face concrete block would continue to be gray. “That only comes in a gray color,” said Mr. Lynch.

A discussion followed. “The stone building and the locked gates are the things that I think we have the most trouble with,” said WCA director Mary Hobson. With regard to crime, “We’ve had this rash of car break-ins on weekends – my kids had two bikes stolen last weekend,” she said. “It’s just going to be a magnet for kids to go back there,” she added. “It looks like some place to go hide – and to cause trouble,” she concluded.

“Dugouts, especially these kind of enclosed ones just seem kind of over the top,” said President Susan Reed when referring the school’s use of the dugouts. Reed went on to say that many neighbors fear that once the dugouts are built that the field will become a major center for Little League games.

With regard to the requirement to lock the dugouts, Dr. Sterrett said “we keep kids from being in them when we don’t want them to be.” The locking of the dugouts has been a sore point for neighbors as it prevents the neighborhood from enjoying the structures after school hours.

In answer to Ms. Reed’s question of who will be responsible for the new structures, Mr. Letteri said, “Building services is ultimately responsible for the school grounds.” Dr. Bruce Benson added, “Basically anything that’s built with donated funds, for structures that are on our property, ultimately become our responsibility.” WCA President Susan Reed countered with, “It does seem ironic, though that the school would have to have ultimate responsibility when every time you turn on anything the school is saying we don’t have any money for anything.”

“We don’t need anything else, that’s all they need,” said WCA board member Cristiane França referring to the existing field. Many here see the concrete block dugouts as overkill for t-ball aged children. “It’s just one more thing for [criminals] to play with or for them to get in trouble and for us to have to deal with,” she said. “It’s another place to hide.” Susan Reed added, “That’s why, for a lot of people, the preference would be [no dugouts] at all”.

“Why can’t it be just an open, shaded, structure,” asked WCA Vice-President John Donnadio, “it doesn’t have to be mortar and brick,” he added. On the question of open or no dugouts at all, President Reed clarified, “The reason people were [suggesting] the open dugouts was as sort of a compromise. But if you asked them do they want the locked, closed in [dugouts] or nothing a all, it would be nothing at all.”

When asked if he thought criminals would break the locks to obtain a hiding spot, John Donnadio said, “no question about it.” John went on to say that he favored open dugouts that provided shade and were visible from all sides.

“What about rust issues with that fencing?” asked WCA President Susan Reed to which Foundation President John Raymond replied, “We have a vested interest in this field being a good representation of our son.” John went on to recall a memory from his own childhood, “When we played [on a] field that had dugouts, we [felt like] major leaguers. It was a big deal, it was huge.” He concluded with “We as a foundation [and] me as an individual, are going to make sure that this property is maintained.”

Reed was not convinced. “Whatever is built – we’re kind of stuck with. They’re not going to come and take it out once it’s in.” She added, “We won’t get any satisfaction out of saying ‘we told you’ so and we won’t know that you’re right unless it’s built.”

When asked about landscaping asked by WCA board member Cristiane França, Foundation member Daren Lynch answered, “Nine Redbud trees are going to be planted around the perimeter of the field and some holly bushes behind the dugouts.”

John Raymond said, “Before we talk about a site, the grounds or anything else, the first question was what are your parent-volunteers like? Is this something you guys could self-support?” WCA directors did not comment.

The final decision on the dugouts now moves to the school board for a pubic hearing. Assistant Superintendent Dr. Bruce Benson said, “Anybody that voiced concerns would have an opportunity to be heard, then the board would make a decision, based upon input, as to what to do next.” Woodbrook residents have been known to turn out in droves for public hearings in the past. The date of the hearing has yet to be established.

Full audio from the meeting is here:

4 thoughts on “Neighbors, Foundation Unable to Reach Agreement on Dugouts

  1. Given that the only Woodbrook residents who came to the meeting were the same association officers, and given the meeting was not publicized to the Woodbrook community to attend, it is quite likely these few individuals, while earnest, do not represent the views of the neighborhood as a whole.

    Yes, people will walk up to the school and play ball. That's what communities do. It's a common area, a public place, meant for gathering.

    The sound of children playing and families cheering is a joyous sound and welcomed by many residents.

  2. Anonymous: The directors of the Woodbrook Community Association are elected by Woodbrook residents to represent them in all matters pertaining to the neighborhood. We are grateful to each and every one of them for taking the time out of their busy schedules to do this. Elections are held for association officers every September and are open to all Woodbrook residents.

    If you feel that your views were not properly addressed at the meeting you will have a chance to express them yourself at the upcoming public hearing on the matter.

  3. Dan,
    I was in attendance at the meeting and was very interested in hearing the issues that were being debated about the dugouts. This was the first meeting that I attended and wanted to take everything in before I expressed my opinion and I appreciate you hosting a forum for such opinions.
    One of the things that really stood out to me from the meeting was the opposition to the dugouts because the kids don't need them. While it is true that the kids do not "Need" the dugouts to play tee-ball, but they "Want" them. And if we are going to provide a great place for the kids to play, then we should give them the best that we can. We are trying to give the ball players and students the best possible experience that we can – and a nice, professionaly built dugout will enhance the experience the kids have exponentially. I have a daughter who played t-ball in the Northside League last fall and she wanted a pink batting helmet. Well, she did not need a pink batting helmet to play t-ball, it was not absolutely neccesary for her to have it to get up and hit the ball – but you know what, when she was wearing that pink batting helmet, she enjoyed herself a whole lot more – it was a more positive experience for her! If we can provide that type of positive experience for other kids either through providing them with a great dugout and field to play in or giving them an opportunity to play t-ball when they can't afford to do so, then the Carson Raymond Foundation is doing our job and honoring Carson's memory. In speaking to another friend about the field, he had a similar story to John's in that there were several fields where he grew up in Roanoke and when they played at the field with the nice dugouts and well maintained field, he said it was a big deal to play there and the kids got really excited about it. So, when you ask if the kids need a great dugout to play t-ball, I would argue that in order to have the best experience possible, then yes they do!

    Another point that stuck with me after the meeting was that the dugouts are going to be magnets for criminal activity. I just did not get the correlation between the car break-ins, stolen bikes or weed smoking that is already going on in Woodbrook neighborhood and the addition of dugouts. The dugouts as they are proposed will be locked and completely enclosed. If someone were looking for "places to hide" there are plenty of them in the Woodbrook neighborhood, the woods around the area and the already existing structures at Woodbrook Elementary – I just don't see how adding dugouts will increase the crime in the area or create a crime wave.

    In reading the comment by the person above, it makes me wonder if there are others in the neighborhood (such as the homeowner and father of young boys, Tim, who was in attendance at the meeting) who are in favor of the field and are appreciative of the donation to upgrade the field and dugout at Woodbrook Elementary. If there are, it would be great to hear from them as well – both on the blog and when the public hearing is scheduled.
    Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to express my opinion.
    Steve Raymond

  4. I agree with both Steve and Anonymous. Loosin' up. this will be a welcomed addition.

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