City of Talent considers changing baseball fields into housing, Phoenix-Talent Little League ready to fight

TALENT, Ore. — The City of Talent is working with FEMA to create temporary housing for fire victims.

They’re looking to use a city site that is currently being used for little league baseball.

The plan could use the south side of Chuck Roberts Park in Talent. This comes after the interim city manager signed an executive order allowing FEMA to start a preliminary exploration study into converting 2 of the 4 little league fields at the park.

The announcement was made during a special session held by Talent City Council Friday night.

If needed, the site could provide temporary shelter for 25 to 29 families.

But Little League President Erin Parent, and Vice President, Jeanetta Woodside, say the plan has the potential of taking away the joys of sports from children.

“We have kids that are here right now that missed out on playing even their last season with Little League, because they aged out and they didn’t get to play. Now, all these other kids that are coming up to play, potentially won’t get to,” said Parent.

Parent says the City of Talent let them know about the executive order late Thursday night, before announcing the plan Friday night.

She and Woodside both agree communication should be better.

“The phone call was made to the superintendent about where they could play, but there was no discussion with us as a league,” said Woodside.

Little League players I spoke with say the idea of potentially losing their fields, and a spring baseball season after already losing one last year, is heartbreaking.

“It would just be a hole in my soul, because I’ve spent more than half my life on this field and it would hurt a lot,” said 12 year-old Caidon Darcy. “Yeah, there’s a lot of memories,” added Darcy’s teammate, Christopher Phillips.

“[The fields] mean to me to have fun and get to see my friends, I get a chance to be better at playing baseball,” said 9 year-old Colton Smith.

According to FEMA, 130 families that qualify for assistance remain without housing 5 months after the Almeda Fire burned through their communities of Phoenix and Talent on September 8th, 2020.

Interim Talent City Manager, Jamie McLeod-Skinner, says the main reason why she fast-tracked the executive order is to give displaced families a space of their own, since they’ve been without a home for so long.

“A third of our families are even more desperate than they were after the fire, because they’re seeing the clock tick and we don’t have home for them to return to,” McLeod-Skinner said.

But Parent and Woodside say although 2 fields would remain for the 14 different Little League teams to use, there are 150 kids in the league, whose try outs begin next weekend.

“If it is destroyed, then we lose $250,000 worth of infrastructure and 50 years worth of volunteer hours and hard work that’s been put into this place to keep it here for our kids,” Parent said.

FEMA says their first pick for building a direct housing mission site is the burn pads of previously standing trailer and RV parks.

However, FEMA says they must first determine those sites are safe and free of hazardous materials. It says the Little League fields would serve as a contingency location.

At Friday’s meeting it was announced that the Little League could use the Phoenix-Talent School Districts fields at Culver Field.

“The Phoenix-Talent School District has graciously offered to let us use their facility, but they have one field that would work for us and is the right size… but we have potentially 14 teams that need a place to play,” said Parent.

The Phoenix-Talent Little League decided Sunday night, it will fight the city on using the park for housing.

Parent says the league is seeking legal counsel, as well as starting a petition to save the fields.

FEMA also said it could restore the site after it is used, at the city’s discretion.

As officials work to meet the needs of the many fire victims who are unhoused, they encourage the public to share any viable recommendations for temporary housing locations with the city.

*A previous version of this article stated that the city council voted for and signed the executive order. The executive order was signed in advance without the council’s knowledge by interim city manager, Jamie McLeod-Skinner. The city council was notified of the plan at last Friday’s special session.*

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