Ontario School District spends nearly $50K on softball field project

The Ontario School District has spent nearly $50,000 to build a softball and baseball complex at Ontario Middle School, which is still two years away from being completed and could take another $100,000 in public money, according to district records and officials. 

Ontario district officials said the project, launched in 2018, would cost the district $100,000 to finish. The district so far has paid for ground, soil, excavation and asphalt work, according to records provided by the Ontario School District. 

District officials and the project’s main fundraiser haven’t responded to questions about the project, including total spending.

A plan produced in 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 the middle school.

Since the project’s inception, Ontario district officials had maintained the district’s only involvement would be to care for the grounds, such as mowing and watering the grass.

However, the district reversed course in June when the budget committee approved a $4.3 million allocation for “critical projects” that included stadium light upgrades, tennis courts and a track and field project. 

During the June budget committee meeting, members said the district would “supplement” the group leading the softball project on what it needed to complete to get the project “done.” During the meeting, committee members said there was a “community push to get the project done.”

The committee members asked to “expedite” the project. 

Fran Halcom, a local business owner, established Friends of Ontario Softball in 2018 to raise money for the project. She has not responded to multiple requests for comment. 

During the June budget committee meeting, Nikki Albisu, the district’s superintendent, said she had not told Halcom the district would supplement the project for what it needed to complete. She said Halcom had her “own plan” for moving the project forward. Albisu did not lay out what that plan entailed.  

Meanwhile, the district’s middle school established a baseball and softball team, hiring two coaches. The teams had to travel for every game this season.

“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,” Leonel Martinez, Ontario Middle School athletic director said. 

Halcom told the Argus Observer last June that the softball field would host its first game that August. That didn’t happen.

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. Halcom requested money to install fixtures to complete plumbing and electrical work for the concession building.

The board in November declined to review the application and asked for more information about the project’s funding, progress, and estimated timeline.

In Halcom’s application, she wrote the group had raised $126,000 in three fundraisers and had received another $65,970 in grants. In a March email to Josh Mink, Ontario’s athletic director, she wrote that she was applying for several grants and said she secured a donation for seed. 

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.

The district could provide no contract or other agreement between the district and Friends of Ontario Softball for the use of public property. However, Smith said the school board approved the project on June 5, 2018.

In March, Taryn Smith, the district communications director, said the short-term plan was to “get a few of the fields in practiceable” condition for the middle school baseball and softball league. She 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. 

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