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Ball diamond remains in one of two plans for Lac La Biche park

Will residents put a diamond on it?

LAC LA BICHE - Area residents will have until March 5 to help Lac La Biche Councillors strike a decision on the future of the downtown baseball diamond.

Two concept plans are now in play on the future plans for the McArthur Park leisure area. One plan includes the main baseball diamond which has been a fixture of the downtown recreation grounds for more than a century. The other plan replaces the shale, bleachers, dugout and outfield with summertime green-space, picnic areas, a group-use shelter and a skate park.

Both plans are conceptual ideas for the entire area that includes the current recreations grounds as well as McArthur Park, the museum, splash park and Rotary outdoor exercise area. The concepts come with a new theme that replaces sport and recreation and creates more of a leisure area.

The two plans are revisions to original ideas from designers that were presented to county councillors two weeks ago. The revisions were made after some members of Lac La Biche County council balked at the idea of removing the main baseball diamond, saying the area without the game field was a big swing and a miss. Council agreed at their February 9 meeting to send the concepts out to the public for comments. As the public picks their favourite, so do councillors.

"I like the new one that has the diamond for sure," says county councillor George L'Heureux, defending the revised version that keeps the baseball field. "It's nostalgic. It's been there for a while."

That nostalgia is also something Mayor Omer Moghrabi sees as a big sales pitch to keep the diamond.

"That ball diamond is over 100 years old," said Moghrabi who has played, coached and watched baseball on the diamond since he was a child. "The whole area is a very unique piece of property that has historical significance with how it was set up."

The recreation area, he said, has long been a gathering point for generations of people dating back to early Indigenous settlement. It was such a significant gathering place that in the early 1900s, Oblate nuns designated the area as a community space for health and wellness. 

While he understands the significance of the greenspace, the mayor also recognizes the foundation of the area's history.

"I know people say they don't like change — but you have to know from where... you came from to know where you are going," he said.

What will be going from McArthur Park if the public and council decide that the ball diamond stays, is the new skate park. Some councillors say there would be no room for the skate and scooter riding area if the baseball field stays. The skatepark would likely be added to the continuing plans for the sports fields at the Bold Center.

"If it is concept one (with the ball diamond) then I don't want to be adding a skate park. I don't want to squish a skatepark in there," said councillor Lorin Tkachuk.

Others on council agreed that the new Bold Center recreation area — a soon-to-be-completed $15 million project including a full size football field, additional baseball diamonds and a camping area — would be good fit for a skatepark. The skatepark is already in the municipality's five-year recreation plan, explained Tkachuk, so it will be built no matter which concept plan is ultimately selected — it's just a matter of where.

Strike out

As the public examines those options, councillor Jason Stedman has maintained his support of removing the ball diamond from McArthur Park.

"I personally still lean towards no ball diamond," he said, explaining that the future plan for the McArthur Park makeover is more leisure-based, and sports activities should go to the new Bold Center sports fields. "I see that this is leisure and the Bold Centre is more for recreational type sporting events."  

Diamond level

Keeping the downtown diamond would mean there will be seven baseball fields within the hamlet, a number that the municipality's recreation manager Darrell Lessmeister says creates a ratio of one diamond per 1,200 population. The industry standard for population to diamond ratios sits around one for every 1,600 he said.

"When it comes to ball diamonds, we are well-served," he said. 

The current public review is the second opportunity for residents to comment on the current McArthur Park plans. The first survey took place last October and drew about 300 responses. The municipality also hosted 20 stakeholder information sessions. Information from the surveys and sessions helped to shape the idea for the current concepts of what fixtures and themes would be explored in the new plans.

While council agreed to offer the second round of surveys, not everyone was in favour of sending part of the decision-making back to the public again — especially if only a small percentage responds.

"In my opinion, I like public input... but to say solely that the public is going to make the final decision, basically, I can't agree to just that because then there wouldn't be any point in any of us sitting here," said Ward 1 councillor said Darlene Beniuk, who had earlier expressed concern that only 300 people in the original survey had helped form the plans for the overall park concept. "With the public coming forward — we might only have 10. Well, we have 10,000 people."

The decision to send the concept plans to the public for review was approved unanimously. 

The final vote from the feedback of the concept plans will be discussed further by council at a meeting after the March 5 deadline.

The over all budget costs for either of the McArthur Park scenarios has been pegged at around $4.5 million.

The survey and the two map options can be found in the links of the digital version of this story at www.lakelandtoday.ca