Summer Update

Here’s what’s happening in Woodbrook this summer.

Woodbrook children attending Woodbrook Elementary School will be a little cooler this fall thanks to upgrades to the school’s air conditioning system. “We are so pleased that the County’s Capital Improvement Program was able to provide funding for the two projects at Woodbrook Elementary School, this summer,” wrote Albemarle School Board Building Service’s Andy Sterling in an email message to this blog. “The chiller that is being replaced is approximately 25 years old, incurred significant repair bills, and has reached the end of its useful life span,” he added. “The new and modern replacement chiller will be more energy efficient and reliable, and will certainly improve the comfort of all of the building occupants,” he said. The summer project also includes upgrading the kitchen HVAC and lighting systems.

Both projects are on schedule for an early August completion.

Workmen prepare to lift new chiller at Woodbrook Elementary School.

Woodbrook residents will no doubt recall the 2009 Arden Place issue. That summer, over 100 residents attended a hearing on a proposed roadway connection to the Arden Place development. The roadway was defeated. Arden Place is now under construction and can be seen through the trees from Idlewood Drive.

A view of Arden Place from Idlewood Drive. Note the roof peaks in the top center of this photo.

In May we gave you an update on the Woodbrook Lagoon Project. A temporary construction entrance has been build at the corner of Idlewood Drive and Brookmere Road. We haven’t heard of any problems with noise or the movement of heavy equipment so far. If you live in this area, let us know if you are experiencing problems by commenting below.

Temporary construction road next to 2700 Idlewood Drive.
Heavy equipment and supplies for the Woodbrook Lagoon project. The project is expected to be largely completed by the end of July.

And lastly, we noted the presence of what appears to be construction trash on the property of Woodbrook Elementary School. We have been unable to determine the source of the material, but the pallet pictured in the foreground looks similar to those used to deliver concrete blocks for the Carson Raymond Foundation dugouts. If you have information on the source of this material please post your comments below.

Construction trash located behind a dugout at Woodbrook Elementary School.

Woodbrook Field Dedicated

Carson Raymond Foundation President John Raymond dedicated the new field yesterday. “It’s done,” said Raymond.

Carson Raymond Foundation officials formally opened Woodbrook field before a hundred or so members of the general public yesterday. “It’s done!” exclaimed Foundation President John Raymond at the ceremony. Some Woodbrook residents disagreed, or they would have, had they been informed of the event.

Neither was there any mention of the role played by Woodbrook residents in the design of the field. Residents attended four meetings at the school between December 2009 and June 2010 where some neighbors voiced their concern about the effect of the structures on neighborhood crime. At one such meeting, held on April 24, 2010, the Foundation committed, in writing, to “[Keep] the lockable chain link swinging gates to prevent anyone from entering the dugout areas when the field is not being used for t-ball.” As of yesterday’s dedication, the dugouts were neither screened off nor locked.


On the left, a computer rendering of the north dugout as presented to neighbors in April 2010. On the right, as built. Notice the absence of screening designed to keep vandals out.

Absent too were the bleachers that Foundation officials billed as a place where Woodbrook residents could sit and enjoy the field while their children played.

But perhaps the biggest oversight was the failure of the Foundation to offer an invitation to Woodbrook residents to attend yesterday’s dedication. “To be able to provide something like this to the community feels pretty good” said Raymond in his opening remarks. “No, I did not get an invitation,” said Woodbrook Community Association President Susan Reed in an email message to this blog.


Trash found in the dugouts the morning after opening day events. From left to right clothing, cable ties and a vandal’s dream come true, a can of spray paint.

Dugout Construction Slow

Regular readers of this blog will recall that the Carson Raymond Foundation is building two new dugouts on the field at Woodbrook Elementary school. Many Woodbrook residents are puzzled by the apparent slow progress of construction following this summer’s rush for approvals.

Dugout construction as of October 10, 2010. Since this photo was taken, orange construction fencing has been added for the safety of Woodbrook school children. Construction of both dugouts began in August.

Dugout construction began sometime in August, but has languished since then. Carson Raymond Foundation officials pushed hard for a summer approval of their plans on the basis that dugout construction would be completed by the start of the school year. Most Woodbrook residents had less than ten days notice of the school board’s public hearing in July. The Albemarle County Planning Commission typically provides eight weeks notice prior to a public hearing.

According to a Carson Raymond Foundation spokesman, the Foundation plans to complete the work “this fall.”

Opinion: What Happened to Process?

Albemarle County planners last week quietly approved what they call a “minor” amendment to allow the construction of concrete block dugouts at Woodbrook Elementary School.

For those of you that are new to this story, the Carson Raymond Foundation, in conjunction with the Albemarle County School Board, will build two concrete block dugouts at Woodbrook School. Each structure is roughly the size of a two story building on its side. Woodbrook residents opposed the construction by a margin of roughly 3 to 1.

Woodbrook residents met with Foundation officials on four separate occasions, but were unable to come to an agreement on the design of the dugouts. At a meeting of the Albermarle County School board on July 8, 2010, board members voted 4 -1 in favor of the construction, despite the protests of 11 Woodbrook residents that spoke out against the project. Four residents supported it.

Usually, when a controversial project such as this one is proposed a process is launched in which all sides are heard by a disinterested third party. They then make the final decision on the development. But that didn’t happen this time.


“If someone wanted to give me a new car, for free, I’d vote for that too.”


Sure, the School Board held a public hearing, but are they a disinterested third party? Hardly. By approving the project, they get significant improvements on their property funded entirely by the private sector. Naturally, they have a strong bias toward approval. If someone wanted to give me a new car, for free, I’d vote for that too.

If your still not convinced that the school board had a vested interest in the outcome, consider this. In an email message, sent to hundreds of parents, school officials wrote, “There are currently a few members of the Woodbrook HOA who are opposed to dugouts because of fears of crime and diminished sight lines.” Their email goes on to say, “The Woodbrook HOA has been quite vocal and our concern is their volume will take precedence.” They might as well have said “Everyone come out and beat up the neighbors.” That’s hardly a “disinterested” third party. This misuse of publicly funded school facilities to rally support against a neighborhood begs an investigation of its own.

Prior to the meeting, 17 Woodbrook residents wrote school board members asking them to reconsider. As mentioned earlier, eleven opposed the development at the meeting itself. These numbers alone should have justified a public hearing by the Albemarle County Planning Commission.

And what about those four meetings with the Carson Raymond Foundation? While it’s true that Foundation officials were always courteous and respectful to Woodbrook residents, they had little or no real incentive to make meaningful concessions. They’re accountable only to their members.


“Fritz went ahead anyway and approved the project before the meeting date arrived.”


To be fair, on July 12th, and in an email message to this blog, county planning staff’s Chief of Current Development Bill Fritz said, “You may want to appear before the Board of Supervisors at their next meeting which is July 14th starting at 6 p.m. They have an item on their agenda called ‘Matters from the Public’. This is an opportunity to bring any issue to the Board’s attention. If the Board instructs [planning] staff not [to] act on this project administratively I would then process the application as I would a major project. The abutting owners could request Planning Commission review.” But that gave residents just two days to organize an appeal, an unreasonable expectation. Residents asked if they could have until August 4th to organize, the date of the Supervisor’s next meeting. It was a generous compromise considering that residents wishing to appear would have to take time off work to do so. But Fritz went ahead anyway and approved the project before the meeting date arrived.


“I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking ‘poor loser’.”


I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “poor loser”. Not at all. When the Board of Supervisors last November reversed an earlier Planning Commission decision, I, along with several other residents wrote them. Here’s a portion of my letter:

“Personally, I support the concept of neighborhoods interconnected by footpaths and said so publicly at the Planning Commission hearing in June. You might think I would welcome the Board’s decision to widen and extend the Arden Place path. But instead I am deeply disappointed by its decision, a decision made largely without regard for the civic process that preceded it.”

Following the appeal, the Board of Supervisors had the good sense to call a public hearing and subsequently reversed its decision. The path I had supported was gone, but the people had been heard. That’s how a healthy society works.

Whether your “side” won or lost on this question is not the issue. The issue here is that the planning process failed us all. The freedom to speak and be fairly heard is at the heart of the democratic process itself.

This time we all lost.

School Board Approves Dugouts

Dugout Rendering
A computer rendering of the approved design. An alternate design presented by neighbors was not considered.

Despite overwhelming opposition by Woodbrook residents, the Albermarle County School board last evening voted 4-1 to approve the construction of concrete block dugouts at Woodbrook Elementary School. Only Rio District board member Pamela Moynihan opposed the move. Board member Brian Wheeler was absent.

Of the 15 Woodbrook residents who spoke at the meeting, all but four opposed the construction. According to Woodbrook Community Association President Susan Reed, of the 19 residents who emailed school officials earlier this week, 17 were opposed.

Ms. Moynihan challenged Carson Raymond officials to return to the community to work out a solution that would be acceptable to both the Foundation and residents. Ms. Moynihan also expressed her concern that the project proceed without the good will of the neighbors. Board members did not ask the Foundation to provide costs for the ongoing maintenance of the structures or graffiti removal.

School Board Chairman Ron Price had to interrupt the meeting on more than one occasion to call for quiet among Foundation supporters. Earlier this week, the Foundation invited over 500 of its followers on Facebook to attend the meeting.

We hope to post the full audio from the meeting shortly.

Dugouts: An Open Letter to Woodbrook Residents

Editor’s Note: The following is an open letter to all Woodbrook residents by Woodbrook Community Association President Susan Reed. In this letter Ms. Reed discusses many of the issues surrounding the construction of concrete block dugouts at Woodbrook Elementary School by the Carson Raymond Foundation. It is presented here in its entirety. There will be a public meeting on the issue at the County office building on July 8th.

I felt that I should write and let you all know some of the background on these dugouts as many of you don’t know the whole story. The Foundation first put an announcement on our blog and stated that they wanted to improve the baseball field. They mentioned a few things, among them “adding [a] bench or dug-out for seating“. It all sounded fairly innocuous and so we didn’t go to the meeting as it was a busy time. However, one Woodbrook resident went and became alarmed at the scope of the project they were discussing. On looking at the Carson Raymond Foundation website, we decided we had better get involved and so called Dr. Sterrett and inserted ourselves into the process. In our first meeting with Dr. Sterrett we were told that if the dugouts upset people, they would just take them off the table. That was the last time that offer was made! Now they won’t consider doing so.


“You’ve probably heard that we refuse to compromise.”


There have been many things that we were told that weren’t really true. On more than one occasion, we were told that the Foundation needed no further approval from anyone because it was just improvements to an existing ball field. We found out that wasn’t true; all things being built on a school facility require approval from the School Board. You have probably heard that we refuse to compromise. In reality, we offered a design for an open dugout that was immediately shot down. They are insisting on locks and the cinder block look. We asked if the stones could be in earth tones at least and were told that the stones only come in gray. We have found sources that do have them in other colors. The only compromises they were willing to make was to put fencing in the top half (which will also rust) and to cut the size of the dugouts by two feet.


“I am concerned about crime.”


I am concerned about crime. True, Woodbrook already has many places to hide. But police will tell you that one of the best deterrents to crime is to keep open areas. These dugouts are large. The picture you may have seen makes them appear to be the size of garden sheds, but they will be 18 feet long each. That is two structures almost as big as a two story building on its side. That’s also not to mention the nine trees and the bushes they intend on planting around the area. Much of our recent crime sprees have been in areas close to the school where it would be easier to dart in and out of the school yard. This would certainly facilitate hiding!

Another point that hasn’t been made is the fact that the Foundation will pay for the initial building; but all the upkeep, maintenance, and repairs will be the responsibility of the school.


“All the upkeep, maintenance, and repairs will be the responsibility of the school”


The Foundation wants to build and leave the upkeep to volunteers and the school. This is something that is primarily for non-school use (despite Dr. Sterrett’s assertion that they could be used for PE and he needed dugouts to “corral kindergartners”. This means that any graffiti removal (which is VERY expensive), repairs, trash clean up, maintenance, etc. would be paid for by the school. You can’t read the paper anymore without reading how the schools are hurting for money and will have to make big cuts. Is this a wise use of their funds? And what hope do we have of keeping the dugouts in good condition when the new track is already in disrepair? It would seem to me that it would be much easier to maintain a track (which is not being done) than it would be to mow under bleachers, clean graffiti off dugouts, etc. etc.

Property value is something else to consider. Twenty-three homes will have these dugouts in their backyard view. Woodbrook is the ONLY school where this would be the case as we are the ONLY county school that is completely surrounded by homes. It may be very hard to sell homes surrounding the school because of that. The view is one thing, but extra games, noise, parking on grass, trash, etc. will result. If that happens, property values in the whole neighborhood will go down. Not only would that not be good for the community, but it would not be good for the school either. I was recently getting my hair cut and someone mentioned the news they had seen about the dugouts. Everyone there was commenting how ugly they were and why on earth would they put those in Woodbrook? Mind you, these weren’t people I knew or who knew I was a Woodbrook resident. So it’s not far fetched to think a realtor might have a hard time selling “the lovely concrete dugout view”!


“We were to be the test case to see what worked and what doesn’t work.”


We have also been told several different things about the use of these dugouts. First we were told many times that the dugouts were strictly for practice. If that’s the case, they are unnecessary. Practices don’t last that long and t-ball age children (age 5-8) don’t need fancy dugouts. (If you give them everything at a young age, what’s left to hope for?). Then they started talking about games. It doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to see them increasing activity there. Soccer is by far the more popular sport and they need the room as well. If you put these large structures in, you are limiting who else can use the field. You are also increasing traffic to the neighborhood, noise, people parking on the grass, trash left, etc. We were also told that we were to be the test case to see what worked and what doesn’t work. It would make far more sense to build these kind of dugouts at a free standing school where a neighborhood would not be so affected by all these issues.

When Woodbrook was built, schools were primarily for education. I say this not to denigrate the education at the school now; but to say that all the sports issues weren’t really considered when building. They didn’t envision so much activity going on when they surrounded the school with homes. I say again, we are the ONLY Albemarle county school that is completely surrounded by homes and it DOES make a difference.

I worry about liability and attractive nuisance issues. You can bet that kids are going to be climbing on dugouts. Heck, they climb on the roof of the school building and that’s a lot harder to do!

Woodbrook residents are not opposed to field improvements or to making a memorial to Carson Raymond. We are in a very sensitive situation: we realize that there has been unimaginable pain on the part of the Raymond family in the death of their son; however, we have to live in the neighborhood! Whatever gets built here will be here for MANY years.


“The size and scope of this is not appropriate for our neighborhood.”


If something ends up being a problem, we would take no pleasure in saying, “I told you so!” As I said, we are not opposed to having some sort of memorial here, but the size and scope of this is not appropriate for our neighborhood. We have to live here with whatever is built and with the consequences (intended or unintended) of said structure. As Mr. Spock would say, “It is not logical.” And these dugouts are certainly NOT logical for this neighborhood. Simple benches with some sort of memorial plaque would seem to be more fitting here. The neighborhood could also make use of such benches. There is no benefit to the neighborhood of having large locked structures that the community can’t use.

There are many drawbacks: the twenty-three homes with the very altered backyard view, the increased traffic, parking in the grass and in front of people’s driveways


“There are many drawbacks:”


(which occurs now, but would get worse with more people coming in), more trash, more potential hiding places for people up to no good, school funds going for maintenance, etc,etc. Why doesn’t the Carson Raymond Foundation consider fixing Lane field which was decimated in the recent microburst and has no idea how they’re going to fix it? That is the field that is used by Central Little League baseball. And how about baseball camp scholarships? Or put dugouts at a free standing school? The name of Carson Raymond can be spread elsewhere besides just at the school he attended for, sadly, too few years. Besides everything else, the percentage of kids in this neighborhood who play t-ball is very small so you’re asking for a lot of disruption to serve only a few. (And, again, if it’s just for practice it’s very unnecessary and if you’re throwing games in that’s a lot more going on than the Foundation kept insisting was going to happen!)

As I said before, we cannot imagine the pain the Raymond family feels and have no wish cause them further pain. But we live in Woodbrook and these are our homes and we have to consider what is best for us.

P.S. In case you are wondering, I had two girls who played softball and one son who was an avid t-ball and baseball player.

Thanks for your time and attention to this matter.

Susan Reed
President,
Woodbrook Community Association

Fact Checking the Foundation

The Thursday June 24, 2010 edition of WINA’s The Shilling Show featured an interview with Carson Raymond Foundation’s Fund Raising Chairman Dana Alston. During the interview, Mr. Alston answered questions on a number of topics relating to the Foundation’s plans to construct dugouts at Woodbrook Elementary School.

We’ve done some fact checking on Mr. Alston’s statements. Our analysis follow his comments which are show in italics below.

“We had four meetings, now, with the Woodbrook Community — we’ve amended [the design] after each meeting.” While it’s true there were four meetings, only the second and third meetings resulted in amendments to the design.

“As a board we’re kind of surprised and confused – we’ve made every change that they’ve asked for.” Woodbrook Community leaders requested an open, wooden framed design at its third and fourth meetings. The Foundation has so far declined to consider any proposals other than its own split-faced concrete block design.

“I don’t know why they felt [the dugouts] was a new nuisance [for crime].” For reasons not fully understood by us, dugouts, particularly concrete block dugouts, are a magnet for vandals and graffiti. A Google search for “dugouts AND graffiti” produced more than 25,000 hits, the majority of those are related to vandalism.

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The photos in this slide show were collected from an Internet search under in ten minutes. There are many other stories of dugout vandalism for which photos were not available.

“There’s not going to be anything older than a t-ball child playing in there, anyway, so we can’t have big massive games and older kids there anyhow.” In a December 6, 2009 interview with this blog, Carson Raymond Foundation President John Raymond said, “The first part of the plan is to tear down the existing backstop, which we did two weeks ago, it was old and not really useful for a Little League field.” According to Wikipedia, t-ball is a game played by children from 5 to 8 years of age, Little League is for children aged 9 to 12.

“Athletic programs have proven that it reduces crime that children have another activity to be involved in.” Reports from Woodbrook residents suggest that it’s teenage children that are committing the current rash of crimes, not t-ball aged children.

“A field of that size only holds a t-ball game.” While it’s true that the field is not usable for softball, it will have 60-foot baselines making it suitable for both t-ball and Little League games.

“As many people that are opposed, we have that many people that are for [the dugouts].” According to a straw poll conducted by this blog earlier this year, Woodbrook residents are opposed to the screened, split-face concrete block dugout design by a factor of almost 3-1.

“I think that there’s a small contingent that are really opposed to it but they seem to be carrying the loudest voices at this point.” The Woodbrook Community Association’s Board of Directors, the duly elected representatives for the community, are unanimously opposed to the construction of concrete block dugouts at the school.

You can listen to Mr. Alston’s interview in its entirety on the WINA website. As always, your comments are invited.

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:

Commentary: Neighbors dig in over dugouts

Woodbrook is a stable, quiet, middle class neighborhood where you will find families that have lived here for over 20 years. A few of them have purchased two homes in the neighborhood. It is a neighborhood of caring individuals who are active in the greater community. It’s a place where, when faced with the worst December storm in recorded history, neighbors generously volunteered to help each other dig out.

For almost a year now, the Woodbrook Neighborhood has been under attack. Starting last May, residents first fought off a new road, then an eight-foot wide path connection to Arden Place. Now, the Carson Raymond Foundation wants to build two concrete block dugouts for Woodbrook Field that some have characterized as “bunkers”.

The dugouts have become a particularly sore point with residents. In April, vandals in Manchester, NH destroyed the tee ball dugouts there. In 2008, school officials in Greenville, ME considered tearing down their dugouts when beer cans, cigarette butts, graffiti and condoms were found after a night of partying by local vandals. While it’s true that Woodbrook School has offered to clean up the graffiti, and pick up the trash, these are problems that Woodbrook does not currently have.

One proposal offered by the school is to lock the dugouts. Locking the dugouts requires even more than the already overwhelming amount of chain link fencing. And, as every determined vandal knows, there are ways to get around locks. The only people who will really be stopped by locks are Woodbrook children looking to enjoy the field during after school hours.

“I want to know what we can do at this point to ensure that any dugouts put in at Woodbrook are the open wooden ones — NOT CINDERBLOCK,” wrote Woodbrook resident Mary Hobson in a comment on this blog. Mary’s comment reflects the frustrations of many Woodbrook residents. “We do not need to make Woodbrook into a major (Little) league status field if residents have concerns,” wrote Michael O’Grady. In referring to graffiti, J.O. Perkins wrote, “Cinderblock is inviting.” And to school official’s suggestion that neighbors should feel free to call the police to report crime on the field Audrey Kocher wrote, “Advice to call the cops avoids the issue. The issue is crime prevention.”

And as for the need to shade young tee ball players one anonymous visitor to this blog wrote, “All the talk of needing shade amuses me; try a track meet! They go on for hours and the kids have to find what little shade they can.” No kid I know would give up an afternoon of outdoor fun for lack of shade.

It’s perhaps no wonder then that in a recent straw poll of 49 Woodbrook residents, of those with a preference, 72% wanted a simpler, lighter design for the dugouts, or no dugouts at all.

You might conclude from all of this that Woodbrook residents just don’t like change. Not so. But well thought out change benefits everyone, not just for those asking for it.

So, Foundation, how about this? Forget the dugouts. Instead, create a setting that complements the beauty and serenity of this small neighborhood without distracting from it. Create a place where children can play ball during the day and where Woodbrook residents can enjoy a quiet evening. Lose the architect and hire a great landscaper. Plant beautiful trees that hide all that fencing without creating a place for vandals to hide. Install benches, instead of dugouts, so we can sit and admire the sunset or watch our kids enjoy the field. Work with us to create a place that you and Woodbrook residents can proudly share.

Foundation Meets with Woodbrook Residents

Carson Raymond Foundation officials met with Woodbrook residents Wednesday evening to discuss recent revisions to their plans for Woodbrook field. Approximately a dozen residents attended the meeting held in the Woodbrook Elementary School library. John Raymond and Darren Lynch represented the Foundation. Woodbrook Elementary principal Dr. William Sterrett represented the school. President Susan Reed represented the Woodbrook Neighborhood Association. I represented this blog.

The meeting opened with the presentation by Darren Lynch of a 3D rendering of the proposed field complete with dugouts and bleachers. Following Mr. Lynch’s presentation, questions were taken from Woodbrook residents.

A dugout design as proposed by the Carson Raymond Foundation. Note that this 3D rendering appears compressed in length. The actual dugout, if stood on end, would be about the height of a two story building (20 feet). Foundation officials believe this design is safe because it can be locked.

When asked how key access would be managed, Dr. Sterrett said, “There’s a schedule that’s worked out through Parks and Recreation and they work through our Building Services.” He continued, “I don’t anticipate random coaches each having a copy of key”.

Woodbrook resident Audrey Kocher was concerned that the new design allows easy scaling of the back of the structure to reach the roof.

WCA President Susan Reed introduced this open design which is preferred by some Woodbrook residents. No size information is available for this structure. Residents believe this dugout is safer because of its open design.

When asked who will use the field, Carson Raymond President John Raymond said that the field would be primarily used for tee ball. He did add, however, that he did not know if Northside, the Little League organization, had plans to play their games at Woodbrook.

Woodbrook resident Audrey Kocher perhaps best summed up the frustrations of many residents. “In the twelve or thirteen years I’ve been here there have been assaults on our neighborhood and I think you are getting the brunt of it. One, the development to the north of us where a lovely woods was torn down and will become commercialized — to the south where we have the Arden Place and the issues there — I thought we lived in a neighborhood family area but we have drug busts behind Kohrs — and now I think some of us, at least me, see assaults on the neighborhood from internally, and that’s the expansion of the school, making it a community place.” She continued, “I think that is, to me, an intrusion into this neighborhood.”

School officials were sympathetic. “The last thing we want to do is as a Foundation, and certainly as a principal, is to rile up the neighbors,” said Dr. Sterrett.

Some residents were concerned that the sight line from Brookmere will reveal a “pretty massive structure”. “I mean all you see when you look there now is all the screening. It’s not pretty,” said one resident.

WCA President Susan Reed said that several neighbors like the idea of benches because they could be used for more than just tee ball.

Reed then introduced a photo of a dugout of a simpler and more open design (see photo above). She went on to explain that a dugout of this design would not need to be locked up and would offer complete visibility at all times. “If you look at Pen Park, those dugouts are kept locked up, but that lock as been broken,” said Reed.

Using a tape measure to show 3 feet 6 inches, I suggested that a back wall of this height was still high enough to hide criminal activity. President Reed then gave several examples of recent crime in the neighborhood. “It’s not that we are just thinking it might happen,” said Reed, “we know this stuff goes on.”

“I’d like to show you what 20 feet looks like”, I said as I extended a tape rule out to 20 feet. Someone in the group let out a low whistle. “Now to me, that’s a big structure for any neighborhood,” I said.

When asked why the structure had to be closed, one Foundation official said, “I think when the foundation talked about designing something that the kids would enjoy that would also provide containment for the age group we are talking about.”

Woodbrook resident Beth Gould asked if use of the baseball field would interfere with soccer. According to foundation officials, the two sports cannot use the field at the same time. Gould then went on to ask “How does this co-ordinate with Central Little League or Northside league because it’s pretty elaborate for a practice field to have these huge dugouts.” Foundation officials reiterated that at present there is no demand from either Little League organization to use the field.

Referring to the open style proposed by neighbors, resident Sue Brown asked, “Is this style a style that we can compromise on?”. Tim Moran answered, “Speaking as a tee ball parent, that isn’t going to contain the kids, that is a very big concern in tee ball.” Beth Gould added, “If your kids can hide behind a wall, and their parents can’t see what they’re doing, they’re going to misbehave.”

Some Woodbrook residents argued that their neighborhood isn’t like most others. “If this wasn’t a neighborhood school that was surrounded by homes, that [the dugout] would be fine, but Woodbrook is just a different beast, because it’s the only county school that’s completely ringed,” said WCA President Susan Reed.

With regard to design approvals, Dr. Sterrett said, “it simply goes through Building Services — the amendment process.” Approval by the County not required according to Dr. Sterrett. Referring to the open design Dr. Sterrett went on to say, “I am a little weary of not having some way — I’m envisioning my kindergartner and 60 others who I think would have difficulty – as much as I like this [open design] — staying in the shaded area”.

Woodbrook resident Travis Brown asked if the dugouts needed to be 20 feet in length. “There’s no magic number there, I think that number is totally up for consideration,” said Sterrett.

With regard to the bleachers, Dr. Sterrett said, “What we are trying to avoid is a tall, unsightly bleacher structure that would be nine or ten feet tall, but instead have something that is more two or three tiered as you can see in the picture.” “You could have up to 20 to 24 [people on a bleacher]” He added, “It’s also protected by a fence for foul balls.”

From the 3D rendering it appeared that spectators might not be able to see home plate from the bleachers. Officials admitted that no one has yet worked out the site lines from the bleachers to home plate or from the dugouts to the field.

One resident suggested lowering the 3 1/2 foot wall. Foundation officials agreed to consider the idea of lowering the wall from 42 inches to 36. Ms. Kocher pointed out that reducing the structure also reduces the need for screening as vandals will no longer be able to hide in the structure.

Referring back to the open design Dr. Sterrett said, “I want to say that it’s going to be real easy in a strictly open one like this to bring a six-pack — hypothetically — sit down there right there, with nobody around, and just leave your empty six-pack there. What we like about [the block structure] is the fact that it can be locked. It will be locked.”

There ensued a lengthy discussion about the safety of the two designs from a crime point of view. Some Woodbrook residents felt that openness was the best deterrent while Foundation officials felt that a closed, locked design would work better. Residents and Foundation officials were unable to come to a consensus on this issue.

Susan Reed asked who would be responsible for keeping the bushes behind the dugout in check. Officials assured residents the selected shrubs grow to a maximum height of three feet.

“Who would get the call if that [the dugout] gets graffiti?” asked President Reed. “The school, just like if a shed got spray painted,” answered Dr. Sterrett.

Reed continued, “Is your theory — If you build it they will come. The reason I am asking this is because as we’ve said Central Little League and Northside are already set up for that [field use] — I’m still just trying to figure out is this just basically a practice field or are you anticipating [other uses]?” Foundation officials replied that they hope that one-day league games will be played on the field but for now it’s a practice-only field.

I asked Dr. Sterrett if his successor, who takes over the role of principal July 1st, will have the same passion for keeping this field clean, cared for and locked. “It’s the principal and custodian’s role to maintain the premises, in other words, if graffiti is reported it’s in our job description to handle that,” replied Principal Sterrett.

One resident asked who is responsible for picking up trash after a game. “Whoever sanctions the use of the building or the property is required to maintain it,” said Dr. Sterrett. In other words, to use school property you must first agree to clean up after yourself.

I asked if there were techniques the architects could use to make the structure look lighter, not so much like a bunker, to which president Reed added, “you think of cinder block as being like a prison ward”. Residents generally agreed that earth tones would be more appropriate for dugout colors. A Foundation official said, “we can definitely do that without any problem.”

In a subsequent email message to this blog, Dr. Sterrett wrote that no further construction would take place before communicating with the neighborhood via WCA President Susan Reed.

Full audio from the meeting is here: