Falkville ballfield project to be paid for with 3M settlement money
By Michael Wetzel
For the Enquirer
Morgan County will use a portion of a $5.4 million payment it is receiving from a 3M settlement, approved this past month, to move and improve two youth baseball/softball fields at Bobby Brewer Park, adjacent to South Park in Falkville.
If it doesn’t run into inclement weather and supply chain issues, the park project could be finished by the spring, according to the county’s parks and recreation director, Sean Dailey.
Dailey said about $300,000 of the 3M money will go toward the project. The county will construct dugouts and a concession stand with restrooms, and it will install poles, lights and fences at the two fields.
Plans call for the fields to be moved east to align with the four fields at South Park.
“It will feel like an extension of South Park,” Dailey explained. “The restrooms will be in line with the buildings at the four other fields.”
He said the two new fields will have 200-foot fences, while the four existing fields have 300-foot fields with 200-foot temporary fences.
“It will increase the number of fields by 50 percent, and we’ll be able to increase our travel ball tournament teams from about 16 to mid-20s,” Dailey said. “That will mean a big economic impact to the town of Falkville.”
In August the Falkville Town Council donated the fields to the county. Falkville Mayor Ken Winkles said he is pleased to see the county get a quick jump on using the Brewer fields, which have been largely neglected for the past couple of decades.
“It would be difficult for our town to spend the money on the park that the county has, especially since they got the 3M money,” Winkles said. “It’s a win-win for the town of Falkville and the county. The fields haven’t been used in probably 20 years. The dugouts were falling in. The county helped us maintain the grounds the past seven or eight years.”
Brewer was a Falkville brick mason who helped build and establish the park that was later named in his honor, Winkles said.
“The two fields will mean more sales for restaurants and stores in town,” he said. “Not everybody at the tournaments wants to eat at the concession stand, and sometimes they have an hour or two to go somewhere else to eat and shop.”
The county Parks and Recreation Department charges about $225 per field per day, and travel ball tournaments are scheduled from February to November, Dailey said.
He said his department realizes about $1,000 in net revenue per tournament, but the money is needed to pay concession workers and groundskeepers. “The money goes back into our budget, into our parks,” he said. “We have the cost of labor, utilities, sewer, chalk, supplies. We have to take advantage of our location near the interstate.”
The County Commission this past week declared the old lights and poles at the Brewer fields surplus and agreed to donate them to Hartselle City Schools to be installed at the high school softball field.
Dailey said another $300,000 of the 3M money will be used to construct two more fields, a concession stand and more restrooms at North Park in Priceville.
Travel ball teams spending the night usually stay in hotels and eat at restaurants in Decatur, Priceville and Hartselle.
The West Park gymnasium in Neel, which the county began constructing in August, has a price tag of about $2 million, and a portion of the 3M money will offset that cost, Dailey said. Daikin America donated $160,000 to the county for the project.
The gym was initially slated to be paid for from District 2’s road and bridge fund, according to Commissioner Randy Vest. Before COVID-19 delays, the cost of the gym was estimated at $1.2 million. Original plans in January 2020 called for the gym to open in January 2021.
Vest said if materials and labor are available, the 10,500-square-foot gym could be completed by summer.
“3M asked that we spend the money on quality of life and recreation to benefit the people of Morgan County,” said County Commission Chairman Ray Long. “We plan to do what they ask.”
The 3M settlement with Decatur, Decatur Utilities and Morgan County, valued at $98.4 million, was to settle claims involving the company’s disposal of toxic waste.
Included in the settlement is a $25 million payment that, according to the settlement agreement, is to be shared by Decatur, DU and Morgan County for projects “that support and promote community development and recreation” after deduction of “costs, fees and expenses.” The governmental entities agreed that $7 million would be paid for attorney fees, $7.2 million would go to the city, and DU and Morgan County would each receive $5.4 million.