NEBRASKA CITY – Youth soccer, baseball and softball advocates were given the green light Monday to seek funds to establish new fields west of Wyuka Cemetery at Nebraska City.
Parks Commissioner Patrick Wehling promoted an $800,000 plan that allows soccer to move off of the privately-held land it is currently using and provide two more practice fields for baseball.
The cemetery board raised red lights at its meeting last week, where members voted unanimously against using the land they believe is designated for future gravesites.
Former parks commissioner Jeff Crunk said the city could use the “bottom” of Steinhart Park, Greggsport Park and Kearney Hill park to increase practice fields.
Patrick Wehling said Nebraska City has been looking for ground suitable for a great sports complex for 25 years, but that space has not been found. He said the playing fields west of the cemetery will only be needed until a sports complex is built.
Roxie Barker reminded the council that the cemetery board has opposed the move from the beginning and suggested at the economic development site near the solid waste transfer station would better suit playing fields.
Wehling said the Community Development Agency land is not desirable for the sports complex because of odors associated with the transfer station. He it is not easily accessible to children walking or on bicycles and does not have water utilities nearby.
Wehling said Greggsport Park is not big enough for soccer fields and Kearney Hill is not easily accessible.
Finance Commissioner Gloria Glover said the current conceptual plan jams a lot of fields into the 20 acres. She said if the plan is scaled back, it would not put so much pressure on cemetery uses and would continue to put pressure on youth sports advocates to find a permanent solution.
Glover: “I feel that the ground could be put to better use than just haying. I think that is true… but we don’t want to do this and then sit back and think we don’t need to do a sports complex anymore.”
Public Works Commissioner Paul Davis said he hopes the temporary fields will increase the drive to find a permanent sports complex solution.
City Administrator Grayson Path said a sports committee has been meeting for over a year and decided to puts its focus on solving the soccer dilemma for 300 youth participating.
Path: “After much discussion, we realized that due to costs for purchasing land, so forth, we decided to focus ourselves on the soccer program for now.”
Amy Allgood of NCTC said a there is an opportunity for a partnership between soccer and the cemetery. She said youth sports are in desperate need of more space and said it makes economic sense to start on cemetery infrastructure now.
Allgood: “I think it’s a huge disservice to not use those funds now, while the costs are where they are, to put in roads, to put in restrooms, to start growing trees so you have some mature trees because in 50 years it’s going to be – I can’t even image the cost of doing the same thing we are discussing today. You never regret planning for the future.”
Steve Baltensperger of the soccer board said the city can make the space available for youth sports now and make it an attractive expansion area for the cemetery for generations to come.
Street Commissioner Vic Johns said he is impressed with the “soccer folks” willingness to pause activities during funerals. He said there must be give and take to find the best and highest use for the land.
Johns: “No offense to my friends on the cemetery board, but all I’ve heard from you guys is no. We’re not doing this. We don’t want this. We’re here to serve the citizens and that’s all of the citizens.”
Mayor Bequette said the city will learn a lot once fund raising begins.
Bequette: “I think that our donors are going to tell us whether or not they support an interim solution of 50 years, if you want to call 50 years an interim solution, or if they are looking at more complex-oriented 100 year solution.”
Path said the city would offer a document to the deeds office saying the land should eventually be used for cemetery purposes.