WINCHESTER — City Council has agreed to give Shenandoah University (SU) oversight of two ballfields in Jim Barnett Park in exchange for millions of dollars in improvements to four of the park’s baseball and softball diamonds.
“This is really an amazing win-win situation for everyone who uses the park,” council Vice President Evan Clark said at Tuesday’s council meeting.
According to the terms of the deal, SU will have management and scheduling rights for the park’s Bridgeforth and Rotary fields, which then become the home fields for the university’s baseball and softball teams. In return, SU will spend $4.5 million to fund improvements to the park’s Bridgeforth, Rotary, Bodie Grim and Henkel Harris baseball and softball fields.
Renovations to Bodie Grim and Henkel Harris will cost approximately $600,000. SU will front the first $350,000, then keep 100% of concession sales from Bridgeforth and Rotary until it recoups the remaining $250,000. Once that amount is collected, the university will then give 35% of all concessions to the city to make up for the revenue the park is losing by sacrificing its ability to rent Bridgeforth and Rotary to other users.
The improved Bodie Grim and Henkel Harris diamonds will become the official home fields for Handley High School’s baseball and softball teams, while Bridgeforth and Rotary will receive approximately $4 million in upgrades so they can meet NCAA tournament standards with renovated dugouts, better press boxes, artificial turf playing surfaces, batting cages, and new fencing, lights, seats and scoreboards.
All four fields will remain available to other park users, including Valley League baseball teams and the Winchester Baseball youth league, when they are not needed by SU or Handley.
Additionally, SU will fund a youth sports program for children from economically disadvantaged families in Winchester. It will operate the program for a period of up to five years.
While the agreement between Winchester and SU will be valid for 40 years, council members stressed the city will retain ownership and ultimate jurisdiction over Jim Barnett Park and its facilities.
“We’re not selling the park to the highest bidder,” Clark said.
“We plan on working hand in hand with the park,” added SU Senior Vice President Mitchell L. Moore, who first introduced the management proposal to the Winchester Parks and Recreation Advisory Board on Sept. 23.
SU plans to start work on Bodie Grim and Henkel Harris this spring, and the Bridgeforth and Rotary improvements should begin in August. All work should be finished no later than the end of 2025.
Since Winchester will no longer be responsible for maintaining Bridgeforth and Rotary, Councilor John Willingham said it will free up money in the Parks and Recreation Department’s budget to address other needs in Jim Barnett Park. For example, he suggested repairing the gravel parking lot next to the park’s BMX track, which is currently in poor condition.
City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to accept SU’s proposal. Councilor Judy McKiernan, an employee of Winchester Public Schools, participated in the decision after saying her favorable vote would not reflect a conflict of interest, even though a city school, Handley, directly benefits from the agreement.
Attending Tuesday night’s City Council meeting in Rouss City Hall were Mayor David Smith, Vice Mayor John Hill, Vice President Evan Clark and members Kim Herbstritt, Corey Sullivan, John Willingham, Les Veach, Bill Wiley and Judy McKiernan.