Construction on a long-awaited special needs ballfield is expected to begin soon in Moody Park in Fairview Heights, but a councilwoman wants the work to wait until funds for a handicapped-accessible restroom are available.
Councilwoman Linda Arnold has placed a motion on the City Council's agenda Tuesday night asking the sponsor of the ballfield, the Miracle League, not begin construction until that happens.
Moody Park has four handicapped-accessible restrooms -- two for men, two for women.
"This isn't a legal issue, this isn't an ADA issue, this is a moral issue," Arnold said. "Who is going to bring four of five teams of special needs kids to a ballfield with four bathrooms? We are doing a disservice to the very people we are trying to enrich the live of and it just makes me mad. It's ludicrous to give them a place to play and no where to go to the bathroom. Four toilets in the entire park is not an overabundance of bathrooms."
But the woman behind the special needs ballfield, Brenda Wagner, said the organization has been holding special needs kickball games at the park for seven years without an issue involving access to the existing handicapped-accessible restrooms.
The idea for the special needs ballfield started in 2005 and with a $100,000 donation from Mike Matheny and another $100,000 earmarked by the city for the construction of the $350,000, Wagner is ready to get construction under way.
While the national Miracle League special needs organization is limited to handicapped children under the age of 18, the league that meets at Moody Park is a bit different.
"We have no age limitations, no special requirements as far as what your special needs may be," Wagner said. "We have disabled veterans that come out to play, and mentally challenged adults as well as children."
The yet-to-be-built ADA-compliant field will be rubberized turf surrounded by a concrete apron with bases set flush with the ground. It can be used not only for softball or baseball, but basketball, kickball, and bowling, Wagner said.
"The intention was to do a bathroom and a concession stand, but, nowhere in the contract with the city does it ever mention a bathroom, it's in our plans. Although I would desperately love to have a bathroom, we just don't have the funding for that right now," Wagner said. "This is one of the most positive things that has happened in the city of Fairview Heights, and it will continue to be positive. It's time to build. It's time to give us a ballfield and there is no reason to stop it. I think that once the community sees what these ballfields will do for our community, we will be able to raise more funding for the bathrooms."
Nationwide there are only 225 of the special needs ballfields, including Mike Matheny's special needs ballfield in Chesterfield, Mo.
Plans are to build two of the special ballfields at Moody Park and, eventually, the restroom, but at $350,000 a field, more fundraising needs to be done before that happens, Wagner said. If construction begins as planned Monday and continues without delay, the ballfield will be completed in about 35 days and a dedication ceremony of the ballfield will be held, with Mike Matheny in attendance, Wagner added.
"The closest field like this in Illinois is in Springfield," Wagner said. "This is a win-win all the way around. This will make us a destination. This is important to the kids."
There are no rules, local or federal, that requires a handicapped-accessible restroom be built if a special needs ballfield is built, Wagner added.
"The state says that if I have a bathroom, it has to be ADA compliant, it does not say I have to have a bathroom," Wagner said.
Arnold said she's supportive of the ballfield, but, as chairman of the city's ADA committee, she's witnessed first-hand what a lack of a sufficient number of ADA-complaint restrooms can mean at an event with many of those who need them.
"We have an event once a year that's all disabled people," Arnold said. "There are four toilets in the entire park, and that's just not enough. It's not smart to move forward and put in these great facilities and do it without putting in restrooms for these kids, too. It's definitely not a good project without bathrooms and it should be what's best for the kids.
"To put in a facility like this without restrooms is just wrong. Let's do the right thing and do it once, correctly. This is going to end up being a problem without restrooms. We don't want to stop the project, we just need to suspend it until we can get money for some bathrooms. I'm willing to raise money for these bathrooms and the ADA committee has offered to help be involved in raising money for the restrooms," Arnold said.