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As Long as We Remember...

July 15, 2008

A Beautiful Friendship?

Farrell Keough

So many interesting events have taken place since my last entry here that it was difficult to decide what to write about. But, a Herculean accomplishment is taking place within this county, and it needs to touted.


The Board of County Commissioners and a private organization are planning to build two new large practice fields (200 x 400 feet), and an improved baseball field for the use of Frederick County children to practice sports. While this sounds simple enough, it was a surprisingly difficult, complicated, and very hurried process.


Great praise needs to be given – not only to the private organization for pushing this situation – but also to the county and its employees for forwarding this proposition in a dazzlingly short period of time.


Let’s backup a bit to get some perspective. In January, I wrote about a man named Mickey Zimmer who was working toward building a new field with a private camp ground. Not only did that deal fall through, but Mr. Zimmer passed away in May. Mickey Zimmer was a passionate proponent of finding and building these kinds of practice fields for children. He had no vested interest other than his love for the children of Frederick County. He was a remarkable and unusual man and will be greatly missed.


But, things did not end there. An organization called the Southern Frederick County Youth Athletic Facilities group (SFCYAF) stepped forward to pick up the mantle. Tim Mellott organized this group as an umbrella organization including: Linganore/Urbana Youth Athletic Association (LUYAA), Urbana Jr. Hawks Baseball, Urbana Soccer, and Urbana Basketball. Interestingly enough, neither Mr. Mellott nor Mr. Zimmer knew each other prior to this process. But, both men have a tremendous passion for ensuring our children have adequate space to practicing sports. I am proud to know both men and have been given the opportunity to work with them.


SFCYAF was able to determine that a site existed behind Urbana High School. A baseball field was already present, but in very poor condition. The rest of the land has been leased to Earle and Marie Nicholson for almost six decades. They basically grow hay on this land with a month-to-month lease having a year to six month termination clause. The Nicholson’s were amenable to this proposal from SFCYAF for using this land to build practice fields.


The kicker was, once this land was determined as a possible site, the group realized the soil being removed to build the new MD 355 by-pass could be available for use in building these fields. The companies involved in this by-pass construction, W.F. Delauter & Son, Incorporated was willing to not only transport the soil, (which it could easily sell for further development in the Urbana area) but do the grading of the fields without cost.


If this were to be taken on as a project by the commissioners without this private offering, it was estimated the cost could be $125,000 per field. In short, not only is the county gaining needed practice fields for children, but it is saving well in excess of one-quarter of a million dollars.


A number of other factors also came into play. An engineering firm needed to be hired and plans put in place extremely fast. Hence, the original hope of six possible fields in this location was lowered to two so the plans could get completed. This carried a cost of approximately $17,000 which will need to be raised through private donations. If you know of anyone interested in donating any amount, send an email (address below). These donations will be tax deductible. Further costs have arisen including insurance and proof of monetary backing to ensure the county is covered for any unforeseen problems.


Per an email from Tim Mellott: “In order to raise the required capital for our children’s fields we’ve decided to establish a Donor-Advised Pass-Through Fund with The Community Foundation of Frederick County. This fund will provide us with a more stream-lined approach to accept fully tax deductible donations. The CFFC will take care of all administrative duties including but not limited to tax filings, deductibility letters, audited annual reports and press releases (publicity). SFCYAF cost will be 1% of total fund balance or a minimum of $200 a year. This is by far the most cost effective way to facilitate our fund raising efforts.”


It must be noted that these fields may be temporary! The Board of Education has included in the its projected CIP that the county use this land for an additional elementary school. While this has never been passed by the county commissioners, the possibility that these fields will only have a temporary existence has to be remembered.  But, at this point, the county is sorely in need of practice fields and even if this is a short-term existence, it is better than having no fields at all.


This is not yet a done deal, but it is a major step and a dramatically new way for the public and private sectors to do business. In short, many more hurdles will need to be cleared. Issues surrounding APFO, use of the Urbana High School parking lot after school hours, handicap accessibility, just to name a few, will need to be addressed. Significant fund raising will need to take place.


But, one cannot overlook the incredible achievement that looks to be taking place! We are making the beginnings of a template for possible alliance and cooperation between government and the private sector. Not all things can or should be undertaken by government. This solution represents the start of what could become a beautiful friendship.


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