The community of Union County is stepping up to the plate in a big way for the Optimist and Sam Marcum baseball and softball fields at Pioneer Park.

The City of La Grande Parks and Recreation Department is partnering with the La Grande School District, community volunteers and donors to make major improvements at the two fields and replace the shared concession stand.

“It is going to be amazing,” said Fred Bell Jr. of La Grande, who is working as a volunteer for the project.

The project has been slowed considerably by the unusually late winter snowstorms Northeast Oregon has received. The storms left a blanket of snow on the softball and baseball fields.

Community volunteers began taking on Old Man winter this weekend, however, using snowblowers to push snow off the baseball and softball fields Friday and Saturday. Bell began blowing snow late Saturday afternoon off the softball field and worked until midnight and then returned Sunday to continue from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. Bell said the work on the softball field was quite challenging until the wind began blowing and helped move the snow in the right direction.

Bell said getting the snow off the fields now, before it melts, will prevent the fields from becoming muddy.

The list of improvements to be done at the complex will include replacing the concession stand between the baseball and softball fields. The new concession stand will have an announcer’s booth and dressing room for umpires.

The announcer’s booth will provide a good view of Optimist and Sam Marcum fields. Optimist Field is for baseball, and Sam Marcum Field is for softball. All La Grande High School home baseball and softball games are played on the fields.

Upgrade plans also call for removing trees that obstruct the view of the softball field from the announcer’s booth, installing new ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) sidewalks connecting the fields’ west parking area to the complex, and putting in new bleachers on the visitors’ side at Optimist Field.

The softball field will receive the majority of the work. Improvements set to be made there include new dugouts for the home and visiting teams, a new backstop, new fencing down the first and third base lines, new benches and temporary outfield fencing.

The softball dugouts will include a back wall, something the old dugouts lacked.

“We wanted the girls to have more privacy,” Bell said.

The total cost of the project will be about $256,000 including in-kind donations. Funding includes $24,000 from the La Grande School District, a $18,162 Wildhorse Foundation grant, a $96,308 State Parks Grant, $32,000 in in-kind contributions, and about $90,000 in local donations. Organizations that have made contributions include Little League, the La Grande Optimist Club, Moda Health, Legacy Ford, Union County Babe Ruth, ASA Softball and the Grande Ronde Area Youth Group.

The $32,000 in-kind contributions are from RD Mac and James Challis Construction, both of La Grande, which will do concrete work; the City of La Grande, which has done demolition and site work; and Boise Cascade, which provided building materials.

See complete story in Monday's Observer