Council OKs ballfield study

Iola City Council members have decided to move forward with a study to understand the potential flooding issues with the levee-protected area at Riverside Park.

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May 29, 2024 - 2:40 PM

Iola High School baseball and softball players attend Tuesday evening’s council meeting to show support for upgrades to the ballfields at Riverside Park. Photo by Sarah Haney

Iola High School baseball and softball players filled the community building at Riverside Park Tuesday evening as a show of support for ballfield updates. City Council members discussed a proposed contract for services with Mammoth Construction of Meriden, to upgrade two ballfields in the park that are currently used by USD 257.

“Tonight, you’re not being asked to give a ‘go’ or a ‘no-go’ on the project itself,” City Administrator Matt Rehder explained to the council. “What you are being tasked is giving them the go ahead with an engineering study. Obviously there are concerns with doing improvements to a field in this park.” 

Rehder noted that April 28 was a “perfect example of that,” referring to widespread flooding in the park.

A levee that was put in place in the 1930s to protect Riverside Park from the flooding of the Neosho River creates a bowl-effect in the park. For the most part the levee has been effective in keeping the river water out of the park, but traps precipitation that falls inside. Both ballfields were under water after last month’s downpour.

Ballfield No. 2 is where the IHS girls’ softball team plays, while ballfield No. 3 is used by the IHS boys.

A study by Burns and McDonnell in March determined artificial turf could be installed. The engineering firm also recommended flood mitigation efforts such as re-grading the south portion of the park, installing new storm drains, and installing three additional pumps. The park currently has two stationary pump systems and a slew of portable pumps.

The engineers said flooding would be addressed by pumping water over the levee as the flooding occurs. This is the current method used to address flooding there.

Mammoth’s study of the park would be at no cost to the city. It would include a hydraulic and hydrologic analysis of the entire site with current drainage and runoff patterns to understand the potential flooding issues within the levee-protected area.

Mammoth Chief Executive Officer Jake Farrant assured council members that artificial turf ballfields can be built in floodplains. “A lot of communities across the country built their ballparks in places where nobody could build anything else,” he said. “We run into this quite a bit. What you’re up against is not uncommon. What is uncommon is the amount of rainfall you get in this particular part of the state.” 

Farrant gave the example of Silver Lake, Kan., which he said was told for 24 years that it couldn’t build a synthetic turf field. “The town is in a bowl and it floods,” he said. He said Mammoth is currently building a baseball/softball complex there. 

“I think you guys have a unique situation here,” he said. “I understand the frustration with the flooding here in the park. We’d love to be able to show you different ways to make it sustainable.”

Synthetic turf fields are not hard surfaces, Farrant explained, they are gigantic retention pumps. “Every square foot that we add of synthetic turf, that’s that much more retention we can have,” he said. “If you want to figure out a way to stop flooding this building here, we will present a way to take that water from this parking lot and send it over to the fields.”

Mayor Steve French asked if there were to be another flood like the one in 2007, what would the plan be to get the ballfields back in play. 

Farrant responded, “When our fields are hit by extensive flooding, the worst thing that can happen is that our drainage is tied into the city. If the city backs up, and there is a bubble there, it comes up through our drainage and can push pressure up into those fields.” 

He added that the biggest concern would be debris that goes into the turf. 

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