Children make their way home from school as bulldozers shovel dirt across 19 acres of excavated land, fenced off between Walnut and Cherry avenues, just north of Pacific Coast Highway in central Long Beach.
The sunken property has historically been called Hamilton Bowl, but work is steadily underway on a community vision to turn the grounds into a sports park, complete with a regulation football field, soccer fields and other athletic facilities, in hopes that the site by next year will live up to its other name– Chittick Field.
New light poles, rows of seating, a bike path and a 400-meter, all-weather running track that can already be seen at the site are all part of a nearly $8-million renovation project, touted as one of the “largest park projects” in Long Beach in several years that city officials expect to be completed by March 2014.
The property will continue to serve its original purpose as a stormwater-detention basin owned by Los Angeles County, but the City was able to work out a deal through a land-use agreement with the County to add the new sports complex in a park-deprived neighborhood while enhancing the site’s drainage system, city officials said.
Derek Wieske, assistant city engineer, said some of the work on the site has taken “a little longer than anticipated,” however construction so far is about 90-percent complete. He said new turf should be installed next spring after the track is resurfaced. During that time, new restrooms, a parking lot and a new pump station with stormwater-treatment features will also be installed, Wieske said.
Though the County prohibits development on such sites during the “rainy season” that starts in October, Wieske said the City has been cleared to continue construction. “We can do construction if we get [the County’s] approval,” he said. “We’ve had a couple rainy days, but nothing major.”
During heavy rains, however, the site typically fills up with water, as it was first developed in the 1930s as a stormwater-detention basin, serving the City of Long Beach, the City of Signal Hill and Los Angeles County. While the site has been used during dry months for baseball and soccer games, the field has deteriorated.
The project to create a new sports park in central Long Beach has survived after various failed attempts over the years. A much grander $140-million proposal for a Ray and Joan Kroc Community Center was cancelled in 2010 because of a lack of financing, and another plan at what is now called Willow Springs Park was scratched after the community determined the site would be better suited for wetlands restoration, trails, a dog park and a BMX-bike track.
Nevertheless, city officials have hailed the Chittick Field project as a way to provide athletic facilities in a community that has needed them for years.
School officials for nearby Polytechnic High School have stated that the school’s top-ranking sports programs will be able to utilize the track and football fields for practice and possibly home games instead of the Long Beach Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Sixth District Councilmember Dee Andrews, one of the project’s main proponents who won the all-American high-school football and track award as a Poly Jackrabbit, said during a groundbreaking ceremony last year that he expects the upgrades to benefit local schools, youth and 75,000 residents who live within one mile of the site.
Funding for the project came from myriad sources. Last March, oil operator Occidental Petroleum Corporation provided a $1-million contribution toward the project that was facilitated through the nonprofit Partners of Parks. In addition, the City was able to secure more than $6 million in grants from the Los Angeles County Regional Park and Open Space District while $50,000 came from the City’s Fiscal Year 2012 operating funds and $700,000 came from the City’s 2006 open-space bond for the design. Funding for future phases of construction is still yet to be determined, city officials said.
While the new athletic facilities make up a lot of the visible construction, most of the work on the site was made underground in order to revamp the property’s stormwater drainage system, said Mike Slama, Long Beach public works project manager.
“One of the goals of the project was to take an exposed groundwater or nuisance-water drainage system and put it underground,” he said. “The outfalls used to just have pipes sticking out of the side of the basin. Water would just come out of the end of the pipe and go into a V-gutter that went around the perimeter and then was pumped out by the old pump station. Now everything’s underground. That makes more usable space.”
Long Beach city officials have also been coordinating with the City of Signal Hill’s Public Works Department on the design of Signal Hill’s storm-drain facilities that include newly installed trash nets. Slama said the project also includes adding “bioswales,” landscaped habitats used to improve water quality by helping prevent silt and surface runoff water from making its way into the ocean, at the site’s four drainage locations.
Wieske said the final part of the project includes resurfacing a portion of Walnut Avenue from PCH to approximately 20th Street sometime next year. ß