Orange County Review: Booster Park improvements included in Congressional appropriations plan

ORANGE COUNTY REVIEW, JEFF POOLE

The U.S. House of Representatives recently voted to pass Rep. Abigail Spanberger’s legislation that would provide $122,590 for the revitalization of Booster Park.

The grant is part of $6.3 million approved by the house for 10 projects Rep. Spanberger submitted throughout the 7th Congressional District.

The funding would be used for repairs to the field ($76,150), practice facility ($32,940) and concession stand ($12,500).

“Here in the Commonwealth, one of the most important investments we can make is in the next generation of Virginians, as well as their families. In Orange County, Booster Park is a vital community center for recreation, sports, and gatherings. However, I have heard directly from local officials about ongoing structural and facility needs at the Park,” said Rep. Spanberger. “That’s why I am proud to lead this effort to secure new funding for improvements to Booster Park. I am glad to see the House pass this legislation, and I would like to thank Orange County officials for their commitment to making their community a stronger place to live.”

Orange County assumed control of the park from the Orange County Boosters in 2015 and is the only publicly owned sports complex and multifunctional recreation facility in the county.

Since taking over the park, the county has worked diligently to update and maintain the ball fields, pavilions, playgrounds, and recreation areas as our budget allows,” Orange County District 4 Supervisor and board chair Jim Crozier said. “We replaced roofs, storage sheds, grounds maintenance equipment, and signage. Field upgrades, fencing, and kitchen updates are needed to ensure all aspects of the park are fully used.”

According to Orange County Administrator Ted Voohrees, county staff prepared and submitted a formal earmarking request to Rep. Spanberger’s office in April. The goal was to request funding to continue providing a safe, cultural and social asset to Orange County citizens.

Located on more than 24 acres behind the Orange County Airport on Route 20, Booster Park includes four baseball/softball fields, multipurpose (soccer/football) fields, a playground area, pavilion and concert venue, concession stand and restroom building, storage facilities and a future dog park.

In addition to youth sports, the park is used by businesses for training, events and job fairs, by the mobile food pantry, by civic clubs and organizations, and annually hosts the county’s Playin’ in the Park Independence Day celebration.

In its application, the county expressed safety concerns about replacing outdated and broken chain link fencing around the baseball and softball fields, dilapidated and unstable batting cages and a concession stand that does not meet code requirements and is inoperable because it lacks any sort of fire suppression system.

The $76,150 approved for field repair would replace fencing on the four ball fields, add a chain link fence cap and four new hooded backstops.

The $32,940 in facility repairs would replace the current batting cage with two new units, complete with artificial turf pads, baffle nets and pitcher screens.

The $12,500 approved for concession stand repair would include a fire suppression system, a commercial refrigerator and electrical repairs.

The county’s application noted it hoped these improvements “will allow the park to maintain and exceed its current utility well into the future. Advancing park facilities in these areas will serve to ensure a safe play space in the short-term while also allowing for the generation of revenue through concession stand sales, which is traditionally crucial to both sports complex operators and the leagues which use their facilities. Having a steady revenue stream available from concessions will become a force multiplier, easing the burden of future improvements and safety upgrades.”

According to Rep. Spanberger Communications Director Connor Joseph, this year, the House of Representatives began allowing Community Project Funding requests to ensure direct, local engagement in its annual appropriations process. Projects must demonstrate significant local support, be sponsored by local or state government entities or nonprofit groups, and otherwise meet the qualifications for federal grant funding.

In addition to the Booster Park project, the legislation includes $200,000 for a new roof at the Carver Center on Route 15 north of Orange, furthering its efforts to develop into a rural community education campus.

“The roof’s replacement will further ensure the preservation of this historical institution, which has great significance to hundreds of alumni, their families and the African American communities of Culpeper, Orange, Madison and Rappahannock counties,” said the Rev. Frank D. Lewis Sr., chairman of the George Washington Carver Regional High School Alumni Association Inc.

The association supports making the Carver Center “a vibrant, community-forward facility,” Lewis said.

The regional nonprofit group supports education through its scholarship program, and promotes and preserves history through its 4-County Museum inside The Carver Center. In recent years, The Carver Center has begun to house vocational training and agricultural education programs and supported both the Virginia Cooperative Extension and a minority-farmers effort that produces hundreds of pounds of produce per year for area food banks.

House members voted 219-208 to approve the appropriations package which advances to the U.S. Senate for consideration, where it will be considered in “regular order,” requiring 60 Senate votes, according to Shan Meredith, district coordinator and grants manager for Rep. Spanberger. If approved in the Senate, it heads to President Joe Biden for his signature.

“Orange County staff are thrilled that the House of Representatives passed the appropriations bill that included our funding request for the Booster Park Revitalization Project,” said Stephanie Straub, assistant to the county administrator, who submitted the application. “Booster Park is the only publicly owned sports complex and multifunctional recreation space in our community. Youth organizations, nonprofits, food pantries, businesses and civic groups utilize the grounds and pavilions on a regular basis. We hope the Senate and President approve the request so we can continue to improve this vital community asset.”

“Booster Park is an essential cultural and social asset in Orange County whether you are a parent, fitness enthusiast, business owner, or nonprofit. We look forward to completing this revitalization project to ensure the park’s availability for generations to come,” Crozier added.

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