New play rates at Harford baseball complex outrage teams

Community baseball and softball teams and leagues are concerned about huge increases in ballfield rental rates at the Harford Sports Complex, better known as Thomas Run Park.

The complex, on the campus of Harford Community College, is managed by the college but was built primarily for the use of amateur teams in the community under a decades-old arrangement.

Philip Hutson, of the Harford County Susquehanna League, met with Harford state legislators in Annapolis on Friday to ask for support in getting the rates lowered. Much of the funding to build the complex originally came from a state bond bill that Harford legislators got through in Annapolis in the 1980s.

Huston said the league was notified the cost to rent the main baseball field at Thomas Run Park is set to increase from $100 per game to $600.

"We can't afford to pay that increased rate," Huston said. "Now, our teams will be scrambling looking for another field."

The complex has five fields, two for baseball, two for softball and one multi-purpose field. In addition to the 500 percent increase for the complex's main baseball field, rental rates on the second baseball field will double and the fee will increase by about 40 percent for the softball fields, according to HCC.

The Harford Community College Fighting Owls, the college's baseball team, as well as dozens of community baseball and softball leagues of all ages, play games at the park, whose name Harford Sports Complex appears to have been conferred by college officials.

In 2013, the college renovated one of the baseball fields at the Harford Sports Complex upgrading it from a grass to artificial turf. According to Brenda Morrison, vice president of marketing development for HCC, the college spent $1.5 million on that project.

According to Huston, when Thomas Run Park, the original name, opened in 1990 it was slated to be a joint "50-50" venture between Harford Community College and Harford County residents. Over the years, however, Huston said the business model has changed with the community college making more decisions without the community in mind.

Huston said his league was told the rate increase is needed because the college has an operational loss on the complex of about $90,000 from 2013. He said the community was never made aware of that loss until the new rate increases were published.

Self-sustaining model

"When the fields were built, they were built in mind to be self-sustaining," Huston said during the Harford legislative delegation's weekly meeting in Annapolis Friday. "Why is the community getting an increase in its rates, but the college's team plays there for free?"

Western Harford Del. Kathy Szeliga said her son's baseball league played on the Harford Sports Complex field for years. She said not only are the teams spending money to play on the fields, but also on umpire fees and the cost of operating the lights.

Western Harford Del. Patrick L. McDonough suggested the local legislators draft a letter asking the college to consider a prorated system for fees based on the current expenses of the college, find new innovative ways to finance the field and remind the college of its mission to serve the Harford County community.

Morrison, of marketing and development for HCC, making reference to the $1.5 million turf conversion, said Tuesday: "The renovations were completed on the field because there was an issue with the integrity of the field itself... The outfield was at a lower level than the infield."

Morrison said the decision to replace the grass with turf was made because of challenges at the college to keep the field watered. She said the college uses a pump system for water and is not hooked into the county's municipal water and sewer system.

"We could keep the other fields watered, but it was really difficult to properly water that one field," Morrison said.

Morrison said the college has requested an additional $350,000 in its capital budget to complete renovations to the bleachers at the new turf field.

Minimizing losses

According to Morrison, the new rates for community games held at the Harford Sports Complex have been established to minimize the operating loss the college has experienced over the last several years.

On Dec. 3, 2013, the college's athletic director published new rates for the college's five athletic fields.

Since the fields opened in 1990, the college charged $65 per game on its softball fields and $100 per game on its baseball fields, Morrison said. The new published rates are $90 per game on the softball fields and $200 per game on the baseball field near Wawa and $600 per game on the newly renovated turf field.

"Since publishing the rates, we have had some dialogue with community leagues who use the field," Morrison said. "We are working to find a resolution and meeting to establish an gradual increase."

Morrison said she does not anticipate the college will maintain the $600 dollar per game published rate for the new turf field. She said the college understands the increase will be "quite an increase for the community leagues."

College officials plan to meet with representatives from community leagues Thursday to further discuss the game rate increase, Morrison said.

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