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Field of dirt - District says baseball field is safe

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By Mercy Lopez

Usually in baseball it’s all about being safe on base. But for at least one Robertson High School baseball parent, who did not want to be identified, the bigger concern is whether her kid is going to be safe on the dirt field he is forced to play on.

While there has been much discussion among Las Vegas City Schools board members and administrators over the last few months about getting grass at Whorton Field, located near Memorial Middle School, the district has so far not been able to pull the trigger on the project.

Las Vegas City Schools interim Superintendent Lydia Flores said that despite the lack of grass, the field is safe to play on. She said the district is working toward getting vegetation on the field for next season, but she concedes that for this season, Robertson’s baseball team will have to play on the dirt field.

“It is something that slipped by the past administration,” Flores said in a telephone interview Tuesday morning. “When it came up under my administration, we were already on a tight schedule, but our commitment is to make is safe and to be in compliance with (New Mexico Activities Association) guidelines and Title 9. We want to make sure we have good and safe fields for all our students.”

During a school board meeting in January, district co-curricular director Juan Carlos Fulgenzi asked the board to approve an “emergency” expense to install sod, seeding, or the installation of synthetic turf at the baseball field. Fulgenzi’s proposal was supported by district Finance Director Mari Hillis who told the board that an emergency procurement rule could be used since the expense would eliminate the health and safety issues of the dirt field. But board member Felix Alderete expressed his concern over the procurement procedures followed. He said the bids all went above the $60,000 budget. He also noted that the district’s finance committee had concerns with the procurement process as well.

Flores said that as time went on she routinely met and spoke with Fulgenzi, a group of parents, board members and baseball coach Kenny Sandoval to try to remedy the situation. It was during those discussions that they recommended Flores not approve the bids and just ensure the dirt field is safe for this year’s baseball season.

“I inherited a problem that was way past due…,” Flores said. “It was recommended to wait until right after baseball season to go in and do the work … The time frame was just really late.”

She said a vendor, along with district maintenance staff, have worked on the field to ensure it is safe and usable.

“They have done considerable work,” Flores said. “It is nowhere to being the best field in the world, but it is safe and usable.”

She said Fulgenzi tried to work with other educational institutions in the area to use their fields for this season, but he did not have any luck with that.

Among other concerns that have been expressed by the school  board is whether there would be enough water available to irrigate the sod and whether effluent water from the city would be available.

Flores said she wants to ensure that all fields in the district are safe and usable. In the girls’ softball field, there is some vegetation in the outfield. On Saturday, the softball game between West Las Vegas and Robertson High School was moved to the West field due to a problem at the Robertson softball field.

In September, West Las Vegas installed sod on both the baseball and softball fields. At West, school maintenance staff and a group of volunteers, including athletes, board members, and parents, installed the sod.

West superintendent Gene Parson, who owns a side landscaping business, donated the equipment usage for the project. Parson also spearheaded the project. Prior to the sod installation at West, those fields were mostly dirt.