Three options on table for Freeport's Swartz Field
Freeport residents have three options to consider for the future of James Swartz Memorial Field.
The future of the 77-year-old facility has been in doubt since the Freeport Area School District built its own football stadium at the high school campus in Buffalo Township last year. It now uses Freeport Community Park for baseball.
The borough is eligible for an $80,000 grant from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, with a borough match of $20,000, to renovate the field.
A.J. Schwartz of Pittsburgh-based Environmental Planning & Design met with Freeport's parks, recreation and community committee and came up with three options:
• Concept One: Continue use as a baseball field, bringing in the home run fences in left field and opening up uses for that area, such as putting a band shell at field level and using the hillside as a natural amphitheater. A walking trail could be installed around the ball field's perimeter. A wintertime-only skating rink would be placed in right centerfield and removed for the baseball season.
If this concept is adopted, work could begin as early as next year.
• Concept Two: Making it a small, non-competitive field and creating a shaded play area plaza in left field, with a food truck court and tree planting around the field. The playground would be moved behind where home plate is now.
• Concept Three: Remove the ball field and form a town commons area. A spray park would be placed in the home plate area, and the area abutting the outfield would be used for sliding boards and boulder climbing on the nearly 30-foot hillside.
“We wanted to display what the ramifications are if the ball field goes away and what doors open up,” Schwartz said. “This concept could take 15 to 20 years to complete.”
The consensus, however, by many who attended a meeting this week was to keep the ball field in some manner. Parks and recreation Chairman Tom Swisher was presented with a petition purporting to have 200 signatures asking that the ball field be kept.
All of the concepts included improving the playground area near Second Street in some manner and installing a welcoming gate, much like Riverside Park in Oakmont.
A spray park also is on the docket for the playground area, along with shaded areas. Restroom and concession stand improvements are also part of each plan.
That's music to the ears of resident Melissa Kiser, a mother of children ages 8 and 6.
“We want a place where children can have access to the park,” Kiser said. “I have to take my children to Harrison Hills or Deer Lakes Park.”
When the nearby junior high school was operating, the gates were locked during the daytime when the school used the field for gym classes, according to officials.
Chuck Sarver, committee member and chairman of the annual Freeport International Baseball Invitational, said the community will decide and recommend the final concept to council.
Said Sarver: “We've talked about putting in a grass infield and looking at using the outfield for football and soccer. I'm glad to see this turnout. We're comfortable about opening the gates during the day.”
Committee member and real estate agent Heidi Powell told residents that improving the area for recreation could make the Swartz Field vicinity a destination area and improve property values.
“All of these ideas contribute to the sense of making Freeport a great place to live and a great place to open a business,” Powell said.
The current configuration of Swartz Field dates to 1940. The school district rented the field from the borough until spring 2016.
Stadium lights were installed in 1947, and Schwartz said illumination could be used for seasonal activities such as sled riding.
The school district built a middle school in 2015 and closed the adjacent junior high school, built in 1923. The school property was sold to a private individual last year.
Swisher said a decision on the field's future could be made by the end of the year.
George Guido is a freelance writer.