More money needed for delayed Ontario ballfield project as questions remain

A project to build a softball and baseball complex at Ontario Middle School that began in 2018 is $100,000 and two years away from completion and shrouded in secrecy.
Ontario School District officials and the main fundraiser of the project haven’t responded to questions about the project, including how much has been spent.
A version of the plan from September calls for two ball fields, an indoor hitting facility, outdoor batting cages and a concession stand. The concession stand has been built at the complex on Southwest Second Avenue behind Ontario Middle School.
Since the project’s inception, Ontario district officials have maintained that the district’s only involvement would be to take care of the grounds, such as mowing and watering the grass at the project. Taryn Smith, the district’s communications director, said in a recent email that she did not
think the district had spent money on the project.
In 2023-2024, the school district put more money into its building fund, explaining that an unspecified sum would be for its “softball complex completion.”
Fran Halcom, a local business owner, established Friends of Ontario Softball in 2018 to raise funds for the project. She has not responded to multiple requests for comment.
Halcom told the Argus Observer last June that the softball field would host its first game in August. That never happened.
In September, Halcom applied for a $24,112 grant from the Eastern Oregon Border Economic Development Board, the board in charge of spurring economic development along the Idaho border
with Malheur County. Halcom requested money to install fixtures to complete plumbing and electrical work for the concession building.
Halcom didn’t respond to questions from the Enterprise or to excerpts of this story sent to her ahead of publication to review for accuracy.
The board in November declined to review the application and asked for more information about the project’s funding, progress, and estimated timeline.
In the application, Halcom wrote that the group had raised $126,000 over three fundraisers and had received $65,970 in grant funds. She said windows, paint, steel and roofing had been donated to the project. Halcom wrote that her family had donated “many dollars.”
The Friends of Ontario Softball Facebook page advertised fundraising events held at Four Rivers Cultural Center in 2022 and 2019. Both were auction and dinner fundraisers, with tickets sold at $20 apiece. In 2018, the group sold holiday wreaths.
Smith said in a February email that Friends of Ontario Softball is a “subgroup” of the Ontario Boosters, a nonprofit set up to raise money for Ontario High School sports. According to Internal Revenue Service documents, the Ontario Boosters reported in 2019 that it raised $54,485 for softball. It’s unclear if the funds were for the softball field project. Additionally, in 2019, the boosters listed $2,800 in expenses for the softball renovation. In 2020, the boosters reported $77,568 in ballfield renovation costs.
The district could provide no contract between the district and Friends of Ontario Softball for the use of public property. However, Smith said the board voted to approve the project on June 5, 2018.
Smith wouldn’t answer directly what district funding was committed to the project, instead responding that the district “continues to partner with The Friends of Softball in order to complete the Bates Field renovation.”
She wrote that the “short term” goal is to “get a few of the fields in practiceable” condition for the middle school baseball and softball league. The school board on Feb. 26 approved the establishment of middle school baseball and softball teams. The board took no action on the field.
Leonel Martinez, athletic director for Ontario Middle School, will be hiring two coaches for the launch of softball and baseball at the middle school. Martinez said the teams would be traveling for every game this season. He told the board district maintenance workers were working to set up a “makeshift softball and baseball field.”
“We’re hoping with further discussion with the superintendent and stakeholders that we can work on completing the project that still lingers out there with our softball and baseball fields to give our kids an actual field to practice on,” Martinez said.
Smith said the district hoped to make the fields “playable” for junior varsity teams by next year. By 2026, “if not sooner,” she said the district hopes to complete the project.
Smith added that the district’s priority is to complete a track and field project and possibly tennis courts this year. She said the district would work to set aside some of its middle and high school athletic funding to help complete the project while Friends of Softball “continue to work to raise additional dollars.”

Ontario School District employee Antonio Corona paints an inside room at a concession stand at the future site of a baseball and softball complex at Ontario Middle School. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)
Ontario School District employees work to complete a project to build a softball and baseball complex at Ontario Middle School Thursday, Feb. 29. The project began in 2018 and is $100,000 and two years out from completion, according to district officials. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)
Ontario School District employee Antonio Corona paints an inside room at a concession stand at the future site of a baseball and softball complex at Ontario Middle School. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

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