As the political action and community discourse over the Naranja Park Bond question in Oro Valley continue, the Town continually reminds residents that the bond is being put to a vote as a result of community input.
Members of the Oro Valley Sports Alliance were responsible for much of this input. The collective of youth, adult and senior sports organizations formed earlier this year in order to advocate for the development and operations of new sports facilities in the town. Fred Narcaroti, business manager for the Oro Valley Dolphins and President of the Oro Valley sports alliance, along with other OVSA board members, decided that their voices would be more powerful if they spoke up as a group.
“We’ve tried to have a unified base coming together, instead of a bunch of different voices coming to town representatives as healthy athletic communities for tournaments,” Narcaroti said.
Narcaroti has been involved with the Dolphins for 12 years, serving as everything from the team’s secretary to their cheer coach. OVSA board member Don McGann coaches youth lacrosse in the Town and is also on the board of Oro Valley Lacrosse and Tucson Youth Lacrosse.
Currently, the Oro Valley Dolphins practice at the the Amphitheater High School and Canyon Del Oro High School football fields, as well as the Casas Church Fields and James D. Kriegh Park. Without enough room for the 225 Dolphins to practice in the same area, there isn’t enough room for the group to host tournaments either. Tournaments for sports like baseball and lacrosse, the two men said, need at least four fields in the same area
“Without that in Tucson, we drive 15 times a year up to Phoenix to participate,” Narcaroti said. “It’s really quite a lot to ask of parents [and] it becomes cost prohibitive for kids that do want to play within their own town.”
McGann and Narcaroti also said the cost of renting fields, especially school fields, has become cost prohibitive as rates have gone up.
There is a three hour minimum for renting fields in the Amphi district. For a football and track with lights, the fee is $50 per hour. Without lights, the fee is $25 per hour. According to James Burns, executive manager of operational support for Amphitheater Public Schools, a $10/hour fee is also charged for custodial staff to stock supplies, unlock and clean restrooms. The fee is $35/hour on the weekends. To mitigate costs, the Dolphins often bring their own port-a-potties and lights to practices. They own eight sets of generator-run lights (one of which is out of commission) and rent two more.
School’s in Oro Valley’s Amphitheater District have a total of 31 fields (including practice fields) for baseball and softball, plus one for t-ball. There are 12 fields used for soccer, football or both.
In terms of public parks, James D. Kriegh has three baseball and two softball diamonds, Canada del Oro Riverfront has two softball diamonds and two multi-use fields and Naranja Park has four “extra large” multi-use fields.
The rates for Pima County Public Parks are lower. For example, a public field with lights is $15/hour and a youth league or nonprofit fields with lights are $7.50/hour.
The rental rates for public fields in Oro Valley parks vary by park and time of day (rates are more expensive during peak hours after 5 p.m.) During peak hours from 5 to 10 p.m., rates at James D. Kriegh Park and Naranja Park fields are $10/hour/field for residents.
The school fields that groups like the Dolphins practice on aren’t always well maintained, in part, McGann said, because school budget cuts have left schools less financially able to support outside groups like youth sports leagues. Narcaroti said there are safety concerns, including potholes on the playing fields. He estimated teams called the fire department over 20 times in the last year due to rattlesnake sightings. McGann keeps a shovel in the back of his truck to try and fill potholes at James D. Kriegh when he can, but outside groups are not allowed to do maintenance on school property due to liability issues.
“The drastic 90 percent reduction in capital and facilities maintenance funding we receive from the state over the past ten years has made it especially challenging to maintain and repair district facilities,” Burns said in an email. “The constant use of our fields by our own teams and other organizations also has a negative impact on their condition as we are not able to give them rest and they show increased wear.”
Community groups who use Amphi’s fields include Amigos Baseball, the Marana Broncos, National Youth Sports, the Oro Valley Dolphins, Oro Valley Fast pitch softball, the Oro Valley Lacrosse Club, Oro Valley Little League, the Special Olympics and Xpress baseball.
Narcaroti and McGann emphasized that they are willing to pay to use fields (and, through the property tax, to construct them). The Dolphins hold multiple fundraisers a year. In their biggest, each athlete is responsible for selling ten tickets at $10 apiece.
“It’s not that nobody has skin in the game,” Narcaroti said. “We’re not against paying for fields, but it’s become so exorbitant.”
Do it Once and Do it Right
Critics of the bond have suggested a pay-as-you go model that builds the field over a longer period of years without raising property taxes, but proponents of the bond feel that that’s impractical.
“If you put a million a year, in 15 years, that kid over there who’s five years old is never going to get to use it,” Narcaroti said.
He added that the value of the dollar will decrease with inflation, so spending $17 million dollars over a number of years won’t get the Town as much ‘bang for their buck’ as spending it now. Further, McGann argued, doing the project in phases means repeatedly demobilizing and starting over.
“It’s like building a house,” he said. “You don’t build the rooms separately. It just doesn’t work as well.”
Taking into consideration the cost of taking the sand and gravel site that Naranja is today and creating infrastructure that ranges from lights to water lines to the bike paths to the Tangerine Road connection to the fields themselves, both men feel $17 million is a reasonable estimate.
OVSA members, along with members of the Yes on 454 PAC, say they believe that having improved facilities will attract new residents and companies to the Town as well, by making it a more appealing place to live. McGann compared the investment to the Town’s Aquatic Center, widely considered a success.
“You build a good facility, and it will get used,” he said.