GARDEN GROVE – Sometimes when playing ball, you'll look for a fastball and the pitcher will throw a curve – and all you can do is stay back, go with the pitch and try to find a hole.
This is the situation the West Garden Grove Little League was put in when the Garden Grove School District broke ground July 17 at Bell Intermediate School for the first project in a multischool, multiyear, $503 million modernization plan. The work prevented the league from using its home fields and jeopardized the 56-year-old league's 2013 season.
But it now appears that the league is close to a solution, thanks to an agreement with the West Grove Girls Softball League that will allow the baseball league to share the girls' fields at Enders Elementary School, across the street from Bell.
Even though it is not the league's preferred option and the details have yet to be finalized, officials say they are relieved that a resolution appears near – and just in time, as tryouts are on Saturday at Barker Elementary School. Opening Day is less than a month away.
"We're thrilled about being able to use Enders; we really appreciate it," said the league's auxiliary president, Lara Cassidy.
Still, she expressed frustration over the inability to breach the barriers among the league, the district and its contractor, PCM Construction.
"We're just exhausted," she said. "We never got a meeting."
That exhaustion stems from what the league views as a lack of communication among the three parties, as well as confusion over who is accountable – and ultimately liable – for what goes on at the Bell campus.
Even though the contract between the district and PCM Construction, a copy of which was obtained by the Register, contains a sublease transferring responsibility of the property to the contractor, there are sections that suggest the district has room to maneuver without undertaking a wholesale reworking of the contract.
"Everything I've read (in the contract) leads me to believe there is room to negotiate," said Tony Flores, an advocate for the league who works in risk management.
PCM Construction Vice President Todd Miller said he would be open to allowing the league on the fields if all of his concerns were met, a list of which he claims to have sent to the district more than two weeks ago.
"Liability, contractually, is an issue," Miller said. "The safety of the kids is the biggest issue. Access is an issue. My concerns have not been addressed."
But Cassidy's recounting of the league's private discussions with Miller and district Superintendant Laura Schwalm suggests the issue is more complicated.
"He's pretty adamant that he wants to renegotiate the entire contract," Cassidy said. "While he understands our plight, he's concerned about the liability."
She said Schwalm told the league that there is nothing they can do because the renegotiation would take months.
"I think Dr. Schwalm has done everything she can," Cassidy said. "But she's up against the wall with this contractor."
The official communication from the district, however, is more ambiguous.
"It is not a viable option, because it is not a viable option," said district spokesman Alan Trudell.
The result is that the league has had to shift its primary focus toward finding alternate fields and ensuring the season goes on. The West Grove Softball League proved the saviors.
"West Garden Grove is a tight-knit community," said Aaron Kimura, the softball league's president. "If the shoe was on the other foot, we hope they'd extend the same offer to us. So we wanted to help any way we could."
Using Enders Elementary quells one of the biggest concerns for the league: Children can still walk or ride their bikes to the games.
"It's the next-best solution," said David Morse, a single parent whose 11-year-old son, Peyton, has played at Bell every year of his Little League career. "If we had to go anywhere else, it would have nixed a number of kids, including my own."
In fact, with only two days of sign-ups remaining, the league was down between 100 and 150 kids, according to Cassidy.
And a number of obstacles still remain. For one, the league can access the fields only on weekdays when the girls aren't using them and on Sundays – a substantial conflict for those players who attend church. Also, there are no lights, so the league can't extend the hours of play past nightfall, and officials may have to purchase transportable mounds. Parking is yet another hurdle.
"We'll adapt," Morse said. "We'll have to be creative."
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