By Kurt Johnson
“We’ve found both a short-term and long-term solution to the field situation for Timpview High School’s softball team.” Those are the words of Provo City School superintendent Keith Rittel, shared with me in response to the recent developments with regard to the pending bulldozing of the school’s current softball field.
As stated in prior commentaries I have written on this topic over the past few weeks, officials at Timpview and the school district agree with parents and coaches affiliated with the softball team that even that field that is being plowed under was not an acceptable solution. The Thunderbirds have been playing on the playground of the elementary school across the street.
“As a high school principal, I had a softball team playing on an elementary school playground and it is not a viable solution,” Rittel said. “It’s a last resort and it doesn’t do either of them well. It’s not a competitive solution for softball and not a good playground solution for the elementary school kids.”
The district has been working for four years on a solution that would allow it to build a field where a park currently sits, just south of the school’s tennis courts and west of its baseball field. That land, however, is owned by the city and tied to a federal government land grant that limits its use.
Apparently a softball field is not deemed a proper use of the land. Attempts to get approval to change that have been unsuccessful.
Now, with the construction plans for Edgemont Elementary set to eliminate that kickball field on which Timpview has made it’s softball home, the district has been left without a solution. Rittel has worked out a plan with the city but so far, he can only officially announce Phase 1, a temporary home.
The Harmon Field Solution
“The short term is we’ve found another venue,” Rittel said. “The city and us will work together to make sure it’s a very viable venue for the softball team. That’s available to us for the next one, two or possibly three years while we go through the process of acquiring access to another site.”
The short-term venue on which they have agreed is Harmon Field, at about 200 South on 900 East in Provo, about 3-1/2 miles from the Timpview campus. That means the Timpview High softball team will be bussed to its home field for games and practices for the foreseeable future.
It’s far from an ideal solution, even in the short term, but it is a slight improvement over initial plans to bus the team to share the fields at Provo High. Theoretically, the T-Birds will have city support in at least creating a viable solution at Harmon Field as the primary occupant of the venue.
Outgoing Timpview softball coach Debbie Dodds said it is possible for her replacement to make things work at Harmon Field.
“Harmon will be what a new coach can make of the situation,” she said. “(It’s) not an ideal situation, but could be okay as long as they get a coach in that can be well organized.”
Now comes the hard part for Rittel and Provo city officials. The superintendent makes it clear that it is, in his opinion, “Very gracious of the mayor and the city to want to work with us and problem-solve this with us.”
The biggest issue, however, is still unresolved. In discussing the location of the long-term field solution for Timpview softball, Rittel is unable to provide specifics because he is still not 100 percent certain of the exact location.
“I am being vague about that,” Rittel said. “The other site will be within one mile of the school. It will be something we will have to make a significant investment in, in addition to building a competitive softball field into that site. It’s not a location I’m talking about just yet, other than what I’ve shared, but we’re targeting February 2019 as when that would become available for use by the Timpview High School softball program.”
In my conversation with Rittel last week, he further clarified that statement, saying that, “It could push out to 2020. That’s not what we want, but things happen.”
In the end, the school district is looking to own the land on which the softball field will be built, but the fact is, based on what was shared with me, Plan A might still not be workable in the long run. Hence, the need to hedge on the timing and be prepared with alternate scenarios.
Within One Mile
When you look at available spaces within “one mile” of the school, it’s a pretty short list. Other than the park was the initial target location, there is a spot a couple of blocks north of campus, owned by the city, where it has contemplated things like a dog park. There is also apparently a location within a mile of Timpview somewhere to the south of campus.
It is clear that the school district and the city have the best of intentions when it comes to resolving the remaining issues to reach the permanent solution, but after four years of waiting for a promised answer on their initial requests to move across the street, it is hard for parents to get overly excited about a plan that does not include a specific long-term field location.
We have a similar discussion in our home quite often, whether we’re buying a couch, installing shelves on which to keep our free weights or setting up other “temporary” solutions around the house. My wife reminds me that we have a habit of allowing those temporary solutions to become permanent over time. It will be up to Rittel and Mayor Curtis to make sure this doesn’t turn into one of my home improvement projects.
“We’re going to get this done,” Rittel told me. “It’s going to be done.”
In the meantime, Timpview is faced with the need to hire a new softball coach after Dodds stepped down at the end of the 2016 season. Dodds is one of the state’s most talented and devoted coaches, and her resignation is a huge blow to the program. She went overboard, giving of her time and effort to build not only her high school team but also a youth program to feed it.
Can the new principal, Dr. Fidel Montero, and company get a similarly dedicated coach to take on the job, particularly with the still uncertain field situation?
As a recent Timpview softball parent, count me among those who hope they can. Also, count me among those who will be watching closely as Keith Rittel and the Provo School District work out the details on that permanent solution. Hopefully it comes more in the one or two years range as opposed to pushing out to a time frame closer to 2020.