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Wauwatosa's plan commission unanimously voted Monday to hold a proposal by the school district to bring about $957,000 worth of upgrades to a softball field at Longfellow Middle School.

The conditional use request included changes to dugouts, fencing and the field — including the replacement of the existing natural turf with a synthetic one to allow for wider community use — and the addition of a scoreboard.

During the plan commission meeting, school district officials said that in some ways, the renovation work is a matter of gender equality and would give the girls' teams that currently use the field the same facilities that boys' teams have at other fields in the community, including those at Breitlow Field. But some neighbors and elected officials raised concerns about how the upgrades would affect a popular neighborhood sledding hill next to the field. Two young boys carrying sleds sat in on the meeting and listened to the discussion.

Ultimately, commission members voted to hold the item, asking that the Wauwatosa School District to return with more specifics about the proposal; parking solutions; and proof that it's investigated all options to preserve the sledding hill. The city's design and review board will review the proposal once again on June 16.

About the proposal

The proposed improvements to the field, located between North 80th Street and the Wauwatosa Cemetery, would maintain the same footprint but provide an added safety component to those who use it, while offering an 'aesthetically pleasing finished product' for neighbors, according to the school district's application letter. Some neighbors at the meeting questioned whether the addition of a scoreboard was, in fact, aesthetically pleasing.

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, Melissa Nettesheim, manager of buildings and grounds for the school district, has said.

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

Balancing act

Nearby residents who attended the meeting said there should be higher netting around the field to prevent stray balls from falling into their yards, denting their vehicles and smashing the windows of their homes. One man claimed an average of 20 balls drop into his yard or hit his house every year.

Wauwatosa East High School's head softball coach, Ed Raue, said the field upgrade is something teams have been 'anticipating for a couple years' and the changes would take the program 'to the next level.'

'It gives our girls the opportunity to play on a really nice facility,' he said.

Wauwatosa East High School Athletic Director Michelle Guyant-Holloway agreed. 'We've done a lot for boys' teams in the area ... this is one area that we have specifically for our girls.'

There's also an upper field at Longfellow Middle School, and neighbors asked if that option was explored instead for the proposed changes. Nettesheim said that field was examined extensively, but a playing field was 'not physically able' to fit into that space as it would hinder the playground or would require a nearby parking lot to be reconfigured, among other costly changes.

Local elected officials weighed in, too.

'I'm very pro sport,' said Alderman Bobby Pantuso, who represents the district where the field is located, adding he was at a baseball game before he arrived at the meeting. 'I was hoping there would be a little more collaboration between the school district and surrounding property owners.'

Alderman Joel Tilleson said he shared concerns with those in opposition to the proposal and said the sledding hill is 'a treasure for the neighborhood.'

'On a snowy day there are dozens and dozens of people out there,' he said.

Future discussion

The plan commission did approve a conditional use application Monday, June 13, so the school district could complete improvements to a softball field at Wauwatosa West High School, 11400 W. Center St. Together, improvements to both fields — at Longfellow and at West — total about $1.75 million.

The plan commission will meet again on Monday, July 11, and the school district has been invited to return with the same application, but with more details outlined per the request of the city.

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