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Petition started to save main ball diamond

Historic baseball park is "outta here" after final survey and council decision on new park plan

This  story has been updated to include information about a petition to save the main ball diamond. The petition is endorsed by the Lac La Biche Minor Baseball Association. The updated information is at the end of the article.

Plans to name the main baseball diamond in Lac La Biche's downtown Recreation Grounds as a heritage site won't be going ahead. But plans to remove the long-standing sporting area will.

Basing their decision on the results of a recent 300-person online survey — the last part in a series of public consultations that began last year — Lac La Biche County councillors have agreed to move forward on a concept plan for the McArthur Park area that does not include the main baseball diamond.

In recent weeks, opposition to the planned removal of the 75-year-old playing field had included a push by local baseball and youth sports supporters to have the area designated and protected as a heritage space. With council's decision to take away the diamond, the heritage plan won't be pursued. 

New diamonds at Bold

The plans and changes are part of the McArthur Park Master Plan and the plans already underway at the Bold Center sports fields where three new baseball diamonds, a campsite, track and field areas and soccer fields are already in place. According to the initial drafts of the McArthur Park Master Plan, there is a desire by planners to move away from a sports-based area and create more of a community leisure space.

According to the latest survey on the master plan, which asked respondents for their preference over "Scenario 1" with a baseball diamond, or "Scenario 2 without, "67 per cent of the respondents preferred Concept 2," says Lac La Biche County's associate CAO of recreation and community services, Darrell Lessmeister.

Specifically, said the recreation boss, when asked should the ball diamonds remain at McArthur Park, "60 per cent of the respondents said no."

A similar percentage also agreed that a skate park for youth should be included in the McArthur Park plan going forward.

"Over half think McArthur Park is an appropriate location for a skateboard park," said Lessmeister. "It's central location and visibility are key factors of the location."

Lac La Biche County councillor Lorin Tkachuk said the percentages are similar to the feedback he has received from the public.

"It reflects on what I've heard from calls," said Tkachuk, adding that not everyone is going to be happy with the decision. "At the end of the day we are going to have some people who are upset ... but the vast majority are going to be pleased."

Not all council was in support of the diamond's removal

"It's about our heritage. It's about history. That baseball diamond has been there for a long time," said councillor George L'Heureux, explaining the area as a long-serving gathering location for area residents going back generations. 

Likewise, Lac La Biche County Mayor Omer Moghrabi was clear in his support of the "Concept 1" plan  of keeping the baseball diamond.

"I do not support Concept 2 — and I never will," said Moghrabi, who is an avid baseball supporter in the community and has referenced the main diamond as Dodger Stadium referring to the decades of Lac La Biche Dodgers baseball teams that have played on the diamond.

Calling it the "the will of the people" councillor Sterling Johnson said the survey showed "overwhelming support to get rid of the ball diamond" ... but suggested a compromise of perhaps keeping a "smaller diamond" in the McArthur Park plan so youngsters could enjoy the site as well. 

The idea of going against the survey results and the work of planners and consultants was "insulting," said councillor Jason Stedman.

"We asked the public. They gave us their answer. Now it's our job to act on it," said Stedman, frustrated with the continuing discussion on the topic that has been going on for several months. "... I don't know why we wasted the money on a survey then."

There were no plans on when any plans for removal of the main baseball diamond would begin.  New baseball fields have been constructed at the Bold Center sports fields less than two kilometres from the downtown park. 

There is continuing discussion about spotlighting the significance of community sports and important sporting areas in the community. Some of that discussion is revolving around plaques or information signs that would highlight the significance of areas like the main baseball diamond. More of those matters will be discussed when the updated concept plan for the McArthur Park Master Plan comes back to council in the weeks ahead.

A total of 297 results were collected during the two-week online survey window. Lessmeister said the results are accurate to plus or minus five percent. Of the responses, Lessmeister said 46 per cent said they lived within the Lac La Biche hamlet, 53 percent from the surrounding Lac La Biche County and two percent were from other locations. More than half of the respondents, he continued, said they were between the ages of 30 and 49 years of age, and 77 percent reported they had lived in the area for more than 11 years.

Petition started

Comments from Lac La Biche Minor Baseball members and the individuals supporting the quest for heritage site designation were not received by the editorial deadline. However,  Lac La Biche Minor Baseball Association executive member Stacey St. Jean did respond to the numerous comments on the news story. She says that a petition is endorsed by the local baseball association and is available at several area locations.

"Minor ball is starting a petition to save our historic landmark. You can sign at Petro Gas Bar or LLB Sporting Goods or at the online petition," she says. "Links and info on our website"