A longtime amateur baseball player and team manager voiced his dismay over the recent proposal by Harford Community College to increase the rates to play games at Harford Sports Complex, widely known as Thomas Run Park, during the HCC Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday night.
Richard Schafer, 61, of Havre de Grace, was given three minutes to speak during the board's public comment portion of the meeting and said HCC has changed the mission of Thomas Run Park, from community-centered to a more college-centered model.
"Under the cover of darkness, you took over the community's most treasured asset: Thomas Run Park," Schafer said.
On the campus of HCC and managed by the college, Thomas Run Park was built in the early 1990s with a combination of state and county funds, for use by amateur sports teams.
In December, the HCC athletic department published new rates for the sports complex's five athletic fields, sparking fury from local amateur sports teams that play there.
The published game rates increased 500 percent, from $100 to $600 per game, for the complex's newly renovated turf field, which HCC spent $1.5 million to upgrade in 2013. Fees for the baseball field near Wawa increased from $100 to $200 and for the other three fields increased from $65 to $90 per game.
"I don't know how the college can justify spending $1.5 million on construction [of the turf field] with a $1.2 million operating loss," Schafer said to the board.
The college was having difficulty watering the field, HCC Vice President of Marketing Development Brenda Morrison explained last month. The watering is based on a pump system and is not connected to the county's municipal water and sewer system.
Morrison said the renovation also corrected a slope on the field, where the outfield was at a lower level than the infield.
Schafer said the park was given to the community by its "forefathers." He said the college is losing out on revenue that could be generated from the park by no longer selling advertising along the fencing.
As a long-time member of a local sports league who uses Thomas Run Park, Schafer said the partnership between the community and the college needs to be rebuilt. He said if the leagues would have known the college was facing an operating loss, they could have helped to raise the funds.
"This fight is not just for playing ball on this field for this year or for next year," Schafer said. "This fight is for preserving the benefits of Thomas Run Park for future generations."
When Schafer went over his allotted three minutes of speaking time, board Chairman Dr. James Valdes asked him to stop.
Two other people who had signed up to speak gave Schafer portions of their time so he could finish. When he did, the board members did not comment.
Philip Hutson, of the Harford County Susquehanna League, met with Harford state legislators in Annapolis last month to ask for support in getting the rates lowered. Schafer also attended that meeting.
Since publishing the new play rates, the HCC officials, including HCC President Dennis Golladay, have met with heads of local sports leagues to discuss a new rate proposal plan.
At a closed door meeting in January, Golladay presented leagues representatives with a chart detailing gradual rate increases over the next several years. He declined to provide details of the new proposal.
During Tuesday's Board of Trustees meeting, Golladay said the college is close to establishing a new per game rate plan with the local sports leagues. He said the new rates will be decided upon in the next two weeks.
Following the meeting, board member John Haggerty said he believes the college will reach an agreement with the leagues soon. He declined to say what the new proposal might include.
Haggerty, a former athletic director at the college, was an early advocate for building Thomas Run Park and, following his retirement from the college in the 1990s, he served as the park's first manager.