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Rodgers Forge pushes back on TU women's softball stadium

Jerry Truelove and a dozen of his Rodgers Forge neighbors have formed an ad hoc committee to negotiate with TU about a planned women's softball stadium. They claim the new construction will destroy their quality of life and decrease their property values and they want to see the stadium built elsewhere on the 328-acre campus, where it won't impact any homes.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, Jerry Truelove stood  in the backyard of his Stanmore Court home near an 8-foot-high fence that separates Rodgers Forge from the Towson University campus when a ball dropped from the tree branches. It landed with a thud 5 feet away.

Truelove was unfazed.

"Four to six per game," he said, "and it's a 20-game schedule."

He has a crate full of more than 50 balls on his back deck.

As Truelove describes the impact of living next to TU's women's softball field and explains why residents are upset about the university's plan to replace the field with a $2 million women's softball stadium — the yellow softball makes an eloquent statement. 

Truelove and a dozen of his neighbors have formed an ad hoc committee to negotiate with TU since they learned of the university's plan last November. They claim the new construction will destroy their quality of life and decrease their property values.They want to see the stadium built elsewhere on the 328-acre campus, where it won't impact any homes, Truelove said.

The plan calls for 60-foot-hig, 10-bulb stadium lights, a larger sound system, a 30-foot tall press box and seating for 500 spectators, as well as a concession stand and bathrooms.

Towson University is building the new stadium in order to qualify to host National Collegiate Athletic Association post season games and to meet Title IX requirements that dictate TU's women's field to be comparable to the existing (men's) baseball stadium.

A TU fact sheet states, "Women's softball players are playing often on a muddy field with no below grade dugouts, creating several safety issues … ."

"Historically, we can't use state funds for athletic projects," said Jennifer Gajewski, chief of staff for TU's office of the president. "But Gov. O'Malley and the General Assembly put in $2 million to address Title IX requirements as a 'special exception.'

"We're very aware of the issues and we do want to work with the community, but we have to use the land we have and we have to use it responsibly. We have to be good stewards," Gajewski said, who added that the goal is to do renovations through the fall to be ready for play in spring 2015.

On April 18, after meeting with university and neighborhood representatives, state Sen. Jim Brochin and Del. Steve Lafferty, who represent Towson, secured an agreement from TU to take an additional four weeks to review the feasibility and cost of relocating the field to the former men's soccer field in the valley behind Unitas Stadium and an exploration of other alternative locations. 

Brochin indicated he and Lafferty would consider asking the state for additional money if moving the facility  exceeds the $2 million currently available.

"I felt it was a very positive meeting," Brochin said. "They got to stand in the neighbors shoes. I think we have a shot at it if the community signs off on a location."

But there are practical considerations, Lafferty said. "One of the difficulties is the domino effect, and we don't know if it's even practical to move to another location. We could be dealing with two or three hundred thousand dollars or $2.3 million dollars."

TU will be back with a report by the end of May.

Meanwhile, the dialogue between the university, community representatives and elected officials remains constant, according to TU President Marvene Loeschke, who acknowledged in an April letter to the Towson Times that "we appreciate that any renovation to university facilities may bring concerns from our neighbors" and "we will seek input and make whatever accommodations we can throughout the process."

Loeschke has stated "the final design will ultimately meet all Title IX and safety requirements, be inclusive of community feedback and remain on budget."

Budget is a key factor in reaching a solution that will be acceptable for both neighbors and school officials.

Gajewski said that TU has already made design concessions since November.

They include shifting the field 25 more feet away from the fence line; moving the concession stand and bathrooms farther from the border line toward the maintenance building; reducing the height of the press box from 30 to approximately 22 feet above the level of the field; and incorporating an acoustical system that allows the direction of the sound from speakers to be controlled, which could keep a 55-decibel limit at the fence line, in the event that the field is developed on the current site.

Truelove said the roar of the crowd and the PA system can be heard in his back and front yards. in his front yard as well.

However, the school can't control the roar of the crowd," Gajewski said. "We want people to be excited."

Later on this Sunday, and farther down the alley, a second foul ball drops with a thud just a few feet away from some toys left on the grass by toddlers who had been playing there.

Some residents throw them back, some keep them, Truelove said, adding that most residents don't park on their own property near the fence during game time.

A neighbor with a good throwing arm retrieves the ball and hurls it back over the fence. It bounces off the dugout roof below and lands out of sight in the middle of the diamond, where the players presumably suddenly have to deal with two balls in play.

But Gajewski said TU's plans call for a higher backstop, retractable netting and a buffer line of trees so residents and their pets should no longer be plagued by stray balls once the new construction is completed.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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