Planning for the next large-scale baseball park to hit Derby is set to begin following a presentation to City Council members last week.
Over the summer Steve White, assistant public works director for the city, along with a team of staff from the Derby Recreation Commission (DRC) and Derby Public Works visited baseball facilities and parks across Kansas and Oklahoma. From there, White said they have a better idea of “what works and what doesn’t work” for when they plan Decarsky Park.
All of the visited facilities were fairly new — built within a decade. Some were city-run parks like the one in Hays, Kansas or in Bixby, Oklahoma. Others were college facilities at Oklahoma State University and Oklahoma University.
On those trips, the team visited with managers of the parks or facilities. After visiting these sites and speaking with those managers, White said a few things stuck out to him and his team.
“These complexes are not just ball fields,” he said. “These sites are weekend destinations for families.”
With that in mind, White said he liked some of the “amenities” parks included, such as green space, seating for picnics and shade to protect families who are there for all-day summer tournaments.
White said the whole family is usually traveling to these tournaments, which could last six to eight hours. He said having amenities like splash pads or playgrounds for children there to watch their sibling could be a good idea, as well.
Some on the Council asked White which facility he liked best of the ones he and his team toured. But White said he liked aspects of each and hoped to take ideas from a variety of facilities.
City Manager Kathy Sexton said Council will have to make difficult decisions about which amenities to include in the park because of limited funding. She said when the sales taxes were issued for the park, the city thought the DRC would be providing $1 million to $1.5 million to help pay for the park.
But Sexton said that funding “went away,” leaving a smaller amount in the budget for the park.
“We will … have some healthy discussions where everybody will not get what they want,” she said. “Because there’s no way we have enough money for the Taj Mahal of baseball fields.”
Sexton said they will still “dream big,” but base financial decisions on hard facts, such as how many baseball facilities are in the area and how many tournaments are coming close to Derby. She also said there is no plan to abandon the facilities at Garrett Park or High Park.
“We don’t want to do ‘Field of Dreams’ – ‘if you build it, they will come,’” she said. “Because we know who’s already built these and we know how far away they are, and we know how many weekends they have tournaments.”
Decarsky Park will be built on a 63-acre site on the south side of Derby. In addition to a baseball complex, the park will also house Derby’s first designated dog park.
White said one of the common things managers of toured ball fields said was they wish they had more ball fields. Council member Chuck Warren asked if the dog park, which was promised to voters as part of the sales tax increase, had to be located at Decarsky or if they could forego it for additional fields.
But City Manager Kathy Sexton said the dog park would be fairly small and negating it would not allow space for another ball field. But additional dog parks would likely be in Derby’s future, she said.
“We can’t think about a city the size of Derby – the 18th-largest city in the state – limiting ourselves to one dog park,” Sexton said.
White said he wants to ensure community engagement with the design process of Decarsky Park. To find the best way to include the community, a Wichita State sports analytics graduate class is doing an impact and usage study on the park, which should be concluded in November, White said.
The study would also help White’s team decide how many ball fields would be necessary based on the programming it would likely host. After the study, design can start. Construction would likely follow sometime in 2017.
“Then, after construction, it’s opening day,” White said. “Who doesn’t like opening day for baseball?”