Renewing Otto Miller lease considered best choice
By Scott Bellile and John Faucher
The Hortonville High School softball program appears to have little choice but to continue leasing Otto Miller Park’s ball diamonds from the village, school board members concluded.
Hortonville Area School District officials indicated at a Sept. 10 school board meeting they want to reach a lease agreement with the village of Hortonville. But Hortonville School Board members still asked whether the district could move softball and baseball practices and games to other community ball fields if renegotiations failed.
HASD’s 10-year agreement with the village of Hortonville to use Otto Miller Athletic Field expired after the 2018 spring sports season.
Hortonville Village Board members, HASD officials and representatives from the nonprofit organization Hortonville Youth Sports met on Aug. 23 to discuss renegotiating the lease agreement. Village officials asked HASD and Hortonville Youth Sports for more money or help maintaining the fields, which costs $30,000 to $50,000 per year.
HASD pays $10,000 per year to lease four ball fields for two months during the high school spring sports season. The freshmen, junior varsity and varsity softball teams and the freshmen and junior varsity baseball teams play there.
Hortonville Youth Sports pays $4,000 to use the fields from June through August, but the organization also mows the lawn in the summer and has contributed to capital improvements.
At the school board meeting Sept. 10, Greenville Community Park was mentioned as a possible alternative location. The park, which contains four ball fields, is located about 6 miles from HHS.
Superintendent Todd Timm said the problem with the five teams using ball fields in Greenville is HHS would have to bus students from Hortonville to Greenville every day in the spring.
Busing students one town over for sports practices is not new for HASD. Greenville Middle School students ride to Hortonville for track practices while Hortonville Middle School students are transported to GMS for cross country practices.
Board Clerk Brett Eidahl suggested busing HHS ballplayers to Greenville would not be a problem if it were cheaper than the $10,000 per year HASD pays to lease Otto Miller Athletic Field.
However, bus drivers were in short supply this past spring sports season, HHS Activities Director Andy Kolosso said.
Greenville Community Park may seem like the next best option, but the distance could be inconvenient for the students, and it would be “near impossible” to reserve practice time among the youth sports teams that use the fields, varsity softball coach Paul Halverson said.
“That facility is used a ton, and for us as a high school to come in there and say we have three softball teams, we want 3:30 to 6 o’clock practice time, in past experience, I don’t think we would get anything,” Halverson said.
HHS is not considering constructing its own ball diamonds at this time. Board member Craig Dreier said building four diamonds could cost $1 million.
Timm, Kolosso and HHS Principal Thomas Ellenbecker plan to meet with village board members again to clarify what the village seeks from HASD.
One point of confusion, for example, is although the village is now requesting help maintaining Otto Miller Athletic Field, Kolosso said the village refused to let HASD maintenance crews mow the lawns in the past.
Dreier and President Bob VanDenElzen requested a proposal from the village and information such as how precisely HASD’s annual $10,000 payment is used to maintain Otto Miller Athletic Field and how much income the concessions generate.
Board Treasurer Willard Griesbach said he would like to see a resolution “that could be positive for both sides.”
Village officials weigh in
Hortonville Public Works Director Carl McCrary told village board members on Aug. 16 that he would like the village to look at renegotiating use agreements with HASD and Hortonville Youth Sports before they are renewed.
“What public works is looking for is either more responsibility on the school district or more responsibility on the youth sports end for maintaining the fields,” McCrary said.
“The cost is just getting a little bit too much for public works to subsidize anybody,” he added.
The village maintains the ball diamonds to WIAA standards during the spring softball season using full-time public works staff.
The high school softball season begins in early April and runs into June.
McCrary said his department has limited full-time staff. Seasonal part-time staff are unavailable to help until the summer.
McCrary said the village maintains the facility year-round in order to keep it up to its current standards, and there are some costly additional capital investments needed such as electrical upgrades.
“I think we need to agree what’s best for the village and then sit down with the other groups and find out
what works for everyone,” said McCrary. “We’re going to do whatever it takes to make sure they have a home.”
Trustee Julie Arendt Vanden Heuvel said she doesn’t want any hard feelings.
“I think all three parties can sit down and figure this out,” Arendt Vanden Heuvel said.
On Aug. 23, representatives from the village, school district and youth sports met. The group did not vote or make any decisions.
At the meeting, McCrary said that the village’s position is to receive help in maintaining the fields.
“It’s not always about the money,” he said.
“There’s always been a different perspective from the school district,” McCrary said. “They feel $10,000 is way too much to give. Ten-thousand dollars is nothing when it comes to taking care of that field all year long.”
Todd Timm said he would agree to disagree on that figure, but the district valued its relationship with the village.
Timm said the school board also has “an obligation to its taxpayers.”
Hortonville Youth Sports President Craig Kampus noted the nonprofit organization’s long standing contributions toward capital projects at the facility.
Kampus said Hortonville Youth Sports will do whatever it has to do but asks for more details as the discussion moves forward.
He asked McCrary to provide his best estimate breakdown of the expenses for future discussions.
Timm told the group that he has to bring the item before HASD’s long range planning committee before meeting again.
The group agreed to convene again in the next few months.
McCrary thanked everyone for attending and told them, “Regardless, the kids will have a place to play this spring.”