WINCHESTER — Shenandoah University is proposing a multimillion-dollar partnership with the city that would give the private university management rights for two baseball fields in Jim Barnett Park.
"The purpose of this proposal is to make the field complex at Jim Barnett Park a shining example of how a public/private partnership can work to the benefit of all partners, and be a model of cooperation, pride and efficiency for all of Winchester," Shenandoah University Senior Vice President Mitchell L. Moore wrote in a Sept. 23 letter to the city's Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.
The board held a special meeting Monday night to discuss SU's offer in a closed-door executive session. The matter is expected to be openly discussed at the board's regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 28 in Jim Barnett Park's War Memorial Building.
According to Moore's letter, the university is offering major infrastructure improvements to Bridgeforth and Rotary fields in exchange for branding the facilities as "the proud Winchester home of the Shenandoah University Hornets." SU would continue to make the facilities available for the Valley League's Winchester Royals, youth baseball and the Parks and Recreation Department whenever SU does not need the fields for its teams or to perform maintenance work.
Additionally, Shenandoah would give Winchester $300,000 to improve the park's Bodie Grim and Henkel Harris fields for Handley High School's baseball and softball teams. Upgrades would be made to seating, scoreboards, public-address systems, fences and press box facilities, and Handley would have the authority to manage the fields during its baseball and softball seasons.
Also, SU is offering to provide city officials with "the funds reasonably necessary to start a mutually agreed upon youth sports program aimed at serving children from economically marginalized families in Winchester, and to operate the program for a period of up to five years," the letter states.
"The magnitude of the capital expenditure SU is proposing will transform the fields, and the surrounding areas, with much needed infrastructure improvements, and bring additional revenue — both directly and indirectly — in the city coffers," Moore wrote.
According to the proposal, SU would spend $3 million to $3.5 million on its initial upgrades to Bridgeforth baseball field and Rotary softball field. Improvements would include renovated dugouts and new turf and fencing "to transform these fields into a complex that meets the criteria to host regional and national baseball events for both John Handley High School and Shenandoah University, as well as youth baseball/softball tournaments like the Cal Ripken Baseball World Series or a Babe Ruth Softball World Series."
The fields would also get new lights, seats, scoreboards and improved press box facilities within the first five years of SU's management, bringing those facilities up to NCAA tournament standards. Also, covered batting cages would be built next to Bridgeforth Field, and the university would help the city with mutually agreed upon improvements to Jim Barnett Park's concession, parking and bathroom facilities.
SU would be responsible for maintaining Bridgeforth and Rotary fields, and reimbursing the city for utility costs, for the duration of the public/private partnership, the letter states.
Since SU would have ultimate management rights of Bridgeforth, Rotary, Bodie Grim and Henkel Harris fields, the university has pledged to coordinate with the Parks and Recreation Department to resolve any scheduling conflicts involving teams that want to use the fields when they are not needed by Shenandoah.
Also, SU would work with parks officials to explore income alternatives if the department loses revenue from fees it would typically charge for use of the baseball and softball fields.
"Shenandoah is not asking to purchase or lease park property," Moore wrote. "Rather, the university would simply like to enter into a memorandum of agreement with the city of Winchester that outlines the rights and responsibilities mutually agreed upon between them."
The Parks and Recreation Advisory Board will vote on whether to recommend approval or denial of SU's request at an upcoming meeting, possibly as soon as Monday. The recommendation will then be forwarded to City Council, which will have the final say in the matter.