Letter to the editor: Softball field

As Guilford has remodeled or expanded parts of its campus infrastructure, 2018 has brought a project which builds nothing new and offers misplaced repetition. The location proposed for a new softball stadium is the wooded valley and hillside east of the current baseball and football fields on campus. At least three acres of forest must be stripped and reshaped for a softball field and parking, which shuns simple rejuvenation of resources on the west side of campus.

Without an immediate pause in insular planning and rescue by processes of Principled Problem Solving, this project will become the final chapter for that land in a long history of misadventure.

The land was once tied to the faculty residence of Mel and Beth Kaiser who retired to western North Carolina in 2000. The family offered first right of purchase to Guilford, which took no action, so the title went to an investment owner.  

The adjacent Hodgins property was also subsequently developed as apartments with  Guilford on the sidelines. However, the McNemar administration touted the apartment venture as an increase in available student housing, which the college would not have to control or finance. Later on, the Retreat apartments beyond college control did not benefit campus life and moreover fell into mismanagement. Guilford was fortunate to later purchase the Hodgins apartment complex and seek its own goals of management.

On the Kaiser tract of just over two and a half acres, a new developer sought zoning to allow another extremely high density apartment complex in 2014. An ad hoc citizens group called  West Friendly Guilford College Alliance fought the development. The local group naturally included residents with past associations to Guilford as well as alumni, yet despite the name, the College provided no leadership and was slow in participating to resist zoning against high density apartments led by urging neighbors.

The proposed Kaiser tract apartments had not accomplished necessary zoning when the existing investment owner suddenly faced bankruptcy pressure so that the Kaiser tract went to public auction. The Guilford administration failed to venture into the bidding even when prompted by an alumnus who offered to pay the bidding participation fee. Finally, Guilford executives entered bidding only after a friend of the College gave a large donation for the expressed purpose of entering upset bids, which won the auction.

This land is primarily a drainage and buffer between campus and commercial development and a neglected asset of the campus: the lake. Despite a web-cited interest in Cape Fear River Basin ecology as part of its Principled Problem Solving program, Guilford has no clear master plan or advocacy for the water quality in the natural laboratory of its lake and streams.   Now, Guilford will change up to 12 re-zoned acres from an absence of proactive oversight into the token required engineering of remedial devices to allow for development.

But let’s look at the components of this plan and see how it fails to serve even the goal of  equitable sports infrastructure and ideal parking for visitors. What are the preventative steps to avoid unnecessary development and when can a flagship institution cease propagating an anachronistic ship into its fleet?

The existing Haworth softball field at the New Garden road fields has permanent features  and spectator stands, which can be revised even without billing it as a “stadium.” It has certain small dimensions, like Fenway Park, which has served its league with the shortest outfields and highest home run fencing. It could be regraded to be larger with reoriented infield and stands which would be less cost than the destruction planned elsewhere, but that will has been siphoned off.  

The natural terrain at the new site is steeper and the new site drawing shows a 220-foot center field and 190-foot left field compared to the 200-foot home run fence at the existing field.

It seems that other advocacy claims that a new softball field must be closer to lockers and supplies, which have been upgraded at Ragan-Brown Field House in an affirmative nod to Title IX values. Naysaying is needed to shun improving the existing venue so some claim that it is not possible to bring in sewers and new plumbing structures to serve a repurposed Haworth field.

Parking isis never convenient enough at athletic contests. Guilford revised and diminished parking with the new additions to Hege Cox Art Complex. This is a location which has been prime real estate for tailgating football supporters and also for the relaxed baseball fans who have often been able to drive right up on less crowded bucolic spring days. Bucolic means the fans are so satisfied that they would gladly watch the same game in a cow pasture as in any well appointed stadium, as long as the opposition faces an equal chance of stepping or sliding into something and slapping flies.

Meanwhile, an acre of parking is already adjacent to the New Garden athletic fields and is often underused. But that parking cannot happily serve the baseball and football fans without some fix like shuttle buses and it cannot serve a remotely sited new softball “stadium.”

The dual imperative of an isolated field with new parking has been manufactured to shun the path of improvement that can boost sports and outdoor visitation for the west side of campus.

None of this offers the best future for stream, lake and watershed health in the pastoral aspect of campus spaces. The watershed will be permanently altered with remedial engineering for predestined developers and serious improvement  for the sports uses at the New Garden west side of campus will be quenched and stymied. The engineers do not require that Guilford executives engage the school community in decisions no matter how poor the fit.

Let’s take one alternate example of new parking that is easily shared by event venues.

Guilford has an iconic entrance road, narrow with masonry pillar gates, flanked by two sidewalks, now  rarely used. It is located just two football kicks away from Appenzeller field and passing drivers once witnessed kinetic field hockey and intramural football played on the maintained grass of either side.  

When Dana is full, Guilford’s entrance road is also full, with its meager parallel parking, but it could be more. Guilford is ready to consign its hidden resources to earth movers and not rearrange  a blade of grass in its front entrance acreage. There are even permaculture non asphalt systems to stabilize grass areas to support parked vehicles for cyclic intermittent usage.

Tailgating is a sort of stationary promenade with a seated social display and the audience passing by on foot or vehicle. The scene should be seen and there is no better place for the happening than the entrance grounds of campus, a short level walk from some athletic fields. Perhaps Guilford should borrow the ritual and greet its major concerts and Dana speakers with a similar tailgating festivity.

Instead, Guilford will commission a new, mostly vacant and hidden asphalt to recline on  slopes that are more fitted to the undeveloped world.

What is worse? What happens to the larger support for outdoor uses on the New Garden Road on the west side of campus when softball is extracted from the equation there? The location at New Garden Road for Haworth Field  as well as other sports has certain convenient features for access, parking and public view and festivity. It can certainly be improved. When reactionary planning takes improvement at Haworth and New Garden fields off the table it isolates softball to a virgin development project that dictates destruction and expense (often unreported during promotion).

Guilford College is a natural laboratory of learning and what has already transpired in campus planning is a textbook failure to assess, include and harvest the values and wisdom of its community. Whether or not Guilford pauses in its rush and carries out the missing processes for its planning, the entire history and outcome should be a debriefing study presented as a major lesson in principled problem solving. The current fait accompli has greeted community and returning students fully born and scripted in top down fashion. The 11th hour has come by way of ordinary desk procedures and executives likely have already committed ink. May they yet open up to a new day. Of course contracts and drawing board negotiations could be released after being built up in a centrally managed urgency. Surrounding witnesses must ask themselves if there is transparency and processing all values, including excellence in repurposing and sharing resources. For the spotlight to draw us in and manage toward  consent and belief, it must leave or make us blind to the stage it abandons.

Does one stand aside to the inertia of whatever committee has delivered this play with its expected final act? Will the authors hear from a well informed and involved audience?

 

Tyrus Maynard 1968

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