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Petaluma approves adaptive baseball field


Petaluma officials this week provided a winning run for an adaptable baseball diamond slated to be developed at Lucchesi Park as part of a project championed by a local group associated with a nationally recognized Miracle League nonprofit.

At its Dec. 19 meeting, the Petaluma City Council voted 6-0, with Councilman Gabe Kearney absent, to approve the proposal for a $2 million project that will include a custom-designed, rubberized turf field that will measure 200 feet from home plate to outfield.

The diamond will accommodate wheelchairs and other devices while minimizing injuries, eliminating the barriers posed by dirt infields and natural grass that can make it difficult for those with disabilities to utilize traditional fields.

The proposal also includes wheelchair accessible dugouts, handicap accessible pathways to the diamond, an inclusive playing facility, restrooms, concession stands and seating, according to city staff reports. Since the closest Miracle League field is in Modesto, the adaptable field in Petaluma has the potential to serve more than 50,000 special needs children and adults from across the Bay Area.

Though there are 270 Miracle League organizations in five countries, the Petaluma facility will be the first of its kind in Northern California, according to the local group’s website.

“This project meets an unmet recreation need, which is to provide increased opportunities for recreation to the differently-abled, and that’s a slam dunk,” Assistant City Manager Scott Brodhun told the council. “The site is appropriate and well-suited and the project and the program will be implemented in a partnership, and that’s a lifeblood to the parks and recreation in Petaluma today. It can’t get better than that.”

The panel’s approval was met with a resounding round of applause from attendees who packed into the council chambers to show support for the project, which has been backed by a group of Petaluma parents, athletes and business leaders who banded together to form the Miracle League North Bay nonprofit.

Moving forward, the Miracle League North Bay will foot the bill for the project, and the organization will also cover costs for routine maintenance of the field and facilities. The city will pay for restroom maintenance, which will likely tally around $5,400 annually, according to a staff report.

Management of programs will be handled by the Boys and Girls Club of Marin and Petaluma. The field will be secured for permitted use, though it could be utilized for other activities when not occupied by the league’s programs.

The project site within the 30-acre Lucchesi Park was deemed underutilized by city staff, and no adverse traffic or parking impacts are expected, Brodhun said.

The new field will add to the three other diamonds used by the American Little League as well as a multi-use artificial turf field that’s used for soccer and lacrosse. Organizers plan to team up with the Little League and other local organizations to establish a “buddy system,” to pair able-bodied players with those with disabilities.

For Petaluman Jennifer Richardson, a founding member of the Miracle League North Bay who has been working with the city since June 2015 to secure a site and solidify agreements, the approval marks not only a victory for her group, but for her son, Liam Richardson.

A bubbly 12-year-old who has Down syndrome, Liam Richardson has long yearned for the opportunity to play sports with his peers, she said.

“It’s a complete relief,” Richardson said. “It’s super exciting that finally all the t’s are crossed and the i’s are dotted. We’re done, we have approval and a location and now we need to finalize funding.”

The group aims have the field ready for play by fall 2017, she said. Ghilotti Construction has signed on as the team lead for the project and construction is anticipated to begin this spring, though a specific start date has not been set.

Richardson said several community organizations have committed a total of $40,000 to help fund the project, and the group is in the final stages of acquiring as much as $100,000 in funding from “KaBOOM!,” a nonprofit dedicated to providing opportunities for children to play.

The group will continue to seek contributions from individuals and business, and organizers are in ongoing talks with the Giants about funding opportunities, she said. A portion of the proceeds from a March 4 Voices 4 Down Syndrome Gala in Petaluma will also be donated to the project, Richardson said, adding that she’s confident the group’s funding needs will be met.

Councilwoman Kathy Miller praised the project and its implications for the broader community.

“I think it’s going to be a tremendous asset for the community and for the entire Bay Area because it will be the only Miracle League ball field in the region … it has the ability to serve a pretty broad group of folks who don’t get as much access to park facilities as they should,” she said.

Vice Mayor Dave King echoed the sentiment.

“It’s a great program and I’m looking forward to notice of when the opening day is,” King said at the meeting.

Richardson said she’s excited to bring the project to fruition.

“There are so many benefits — it brings a sense of community for all populations, it gives the opportunity for children to play a sport they have no access to right now. It’s an American pastime, and there’s a whole population who have no access to play. I can’t look at my son for one more day and say ‘sorry, bud, but you can’t join the team with your friends.’ He’s going to be ecstatic.”

(Contact Hannah Beausang at hannah.beausang@arguscourier.com.)