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Locked out? Some question Field of Dreams' usage
County officials say they are trying to protect unique playing surface
The Field of Dreams at Alberta Banks Park in Flowery Branch is a youth baseball-sized field designed specifically for people with disabilities. The field, however, has been kept locked for fear the special surface will be ruined by cleats or skateboards. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

What is the Field of Dreams?

The Field of Dreams opened in November, introducing a youth baseball-sized field designed specifically for people with disabilities and a playground constructed to accommodate those who are unable to use playgrounds found in other parks around the county.

The field was named after one of the original contributors behind the project, former Atlanta Braves pitcher and Hall of Famer Phil Niekro.

The field itself is made out of a rubber-like surface called “Mondo Surface,” built by a company based in Italy and created specifically for fields designed for athletes with disabilities. The surface is painted green and includes bases, baselines and a pitcher’s mound to give it the feeling of a true baseball field. It measures approximately 200 feet from home plate to the foul poles.

The field also features a scoreboard, lights, dugouts for home and visiting teams and its own concession stand.

The Field of Dreams was built as a safe and accessible place for special-needs children to play, but some Hall county residents are concerned that as programming is being developed, few children are allowed to play on the costly field.

Currently, the fence around the Field of Dreams at Alberta Banks Park is locked in response to some vandalism, said Hall County Parks and Leisure Director Greg Walker.

"We had bicycles in there, and somebody broke the latch on the fence," Walker said.

The soft, rubbery surface on the field is very expensive and a tear in it would not only be dangerous but costly to repair.

"It’s not just for kids in wheelchairs — it’s all special needs," Walker said. "If you fall, it’s supposed to cushion the fall."

Walker said the parks and leisure board voted unanimously to keep the Field of Dreams a special-needs only facility.

Currently, any such group — children or adults — may call the Parks and Leisure Department to reserve the field.

Commissioner Bobby Banks, whose district houses the Field of Dreams, said he has received complaints from his constituents about the locked facility.

He said he sees why people are upset that it’s locked but also thinks it’s important to protect the field for special needs groups.

"I can understand not wanting to damage the field but yet we as taxpayers we spent $1.3 million of SPLOST money to do this project" Banks said. "I understand they want to keep skateboarders and guys with baseball cleats off it, but what happens when one of the little neighbor kids down the road want to go down there and play on it with their friends. Do they have to make an appointment with parks and rec to do it?"

The Field of Dreams opened November 2008 and cost about $1.4 million to complete. Assistant Hall County Administrator Phil Sutton said funding for the facility came from impact fees, grant money, personal donations and SPLOST IV.

Walker said he has worked to schedule programming with schools. In April, for example, a special education class had a kickball game at the facility.

The department has also worked with groups such as the Special Olympics and Challenged Child and held workshops to publicize the facility.

"Anytime you have a new facility it takes time to grow that program," Walker said. "We are working with every school trying to get teams."

Walker said many of the complaints he has received about the padlocked field have come from people who do not realize the time it takes to develop programming for special-needs groups.

"Certainly nobody likes putting locks on parks," Walker said. "We really want it to be used, we just want it to be used by the groups it was designed for. ... We are in no way shape or form denying it to any special-needs group."

Tim Bromley, senior architect in the state Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator’s office, said the mission of the Act is to provide access to everyone and reduce discrimination.

"It’s all about making things accessible for everybody," Bromley said. "The whole idea behind the ADA is the most integrated setting possible. What you’re trying to do is not discriminate, not isolate, but to be inclusive so everyone feels like they’re a part of society. The ADA is a civil rights legislation. That’s what it’s foundations are built upon, it’s primary intent is all about integration," Bromley said.

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