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Proposed upgrades to a softball field at Longfellow Middle School have left some concerned about how the changes will affect a popular nearby sledding hill.

The Wauwatosa School District has submitted a conditional use application to the city for upgrades to an existing softball field at Longfellow Middle School, located between North 80th Street and the Wauwatosa Cemetery. The proposal includes upgrades to dugouts, fencing and the infield and outfield — including the replacement of the existing natural turf with a synthetic one to allow for wider community use.

The proposed site improvements would provide an added safety component to those who use it while offering an 'aesthetically pleasing finished product' for neighbors, according to the application letter.

However, the changes would impact a popular sledding hill that is next to the field.

Currently the field is encircled by a removable fence that is installed each spring and taken down in the fall. The nearby sledding hill flows down toward the field. Under the school district's proposal, the new fence would stay in place year-round, as it would include a concrete curb which is not removable, said Melissa Nettesheim, manager of buildings and grounds for the school district.

While the hill itself will remain, the permanent fencing and concrete curb will likely deter community members from sledding down the hill to avoid potential safety hazards. The sledding hill is on school district property.

Nettesheim said she is saddened the sledding hill will be impacted, but excited about what's next for the site.

She added: 'We tried extensive efforts to look into keeping that sledding hill.'

District planners did examine other options in order to keep the sledding hill usable, including adding padding, and even moving leftover soil from the renovations to a new spot in the area, but there wasn't enough room or earthwork to create a second hill on site, she said.

'There were options taken (into consideration) and at the end of the day it just wasn't safe,' she said.

Sledding hill woes

It's not the first time the sledding hill has been affected.

In 2013, the school district installed a fence around the field to follow Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association rules that required an outfield fence 185 to 235 feet from home plate for teams hosting tournaments. Some members of the public reportedly felt the fence created an eyesore in the neighborhood and impeded on the sledding hill, according to a Wauwatosa Now article published in February of that year.

'I think it's important that going forward we continue to balance the needs of the school district and (its) growing athletic program with the needs of families and individuals who don't, or don't yet, have students in the school district,' said Alderman Joel Tilleson.

According to an email Tilleson sent to Nettesheim in May, the city 'heard concerns' that sledding would be affected when the fence went up three years ago.

The improvements

Also among the changes would be the addition of 44-by-22-foot concession and restroom building, which would be located on the south side of the field. The completed field, which is on school district property, would match the existing field measurements and footprint, according to the proposal. The project, funded through the district's athletic facility plan, would also include the removal of an old, outdated storage facility southeast of the field.

The synthetic turf would allow for the installation of multiple base paths to accommodate a wide variety of use groups and ages and would allow the field to be usable during rainstorms or immediately after them as the field would not need time to dry out, Nettesheim said.

Upgrades are also proposed to Wauwatosa West High School's softball field. Both projects total about $1.75 million.

Both conditional use permits applications will go before the city's plan commission June 13. For more information and to follow updates on Active Tosa, a joint process between the city and the school district to plan for the community's future park and recreation needs, visit activetosa.wordpress.com.

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