The fundraising isn’t quite finished.
Yet Craig Stevenson says that when he and other board members of Sequim Family Advocates, the group behind efforts to turn part of Sequim’s Water Reclamation Facility into community activity fields, heard about their newest donation, there were plenty of joyful tears.“This has been years of swimming upstream,” Stevenson says. “We’re still coming down off the high.”
On Feb. 3, board members of the Albert Haller Foundation bestowed a $105,000 donation on the Sequim Community Play Fields project.
Combined with other cash donations and in-kind materials and labor donations, the foundation’s gift brings fundraising efforts within $50,000 of the group’s fiscal goal.
With about $47,000 more, the group can break ground on the 14-acre site, probably sometime in May or early June when the fields dry out, Stevenson says.
When the group does break ground, it will be to construct the newly named project: The Albert Haller Playfields.
“This community is very generous,” Stevenson says. “This town has shown what it’s made of. They’ve put the importance of open space and parks at forefront. I think we all should be very proud.”
Dave Blake, one of five Albert Haller Foundation board members, said this project is very much in line with what Haller intended to support.
“As this came we looked at what the Haller foundation was set up to do,” Blake said. “We thought this might be just the perfect opportunity for the community to have a really neat facility. That’s our position — to help where no one else can do it.”
It is fitting, Blake said, that the fields be named after Haller, a longtime peninsula resident who came to the area in the 1930s with very little and worked tirelessly to earn an impressive estate.
“Not a lot of people knew Albert Haller,” Blake said. “I think it’s important that his legacy lives.”
Albert Haller, the foundation’s namesake, was born in Clallam County in 1903 and worked in the logging industry during the era of horses and steam donkeys.
A man with little formal education, he turned years of hard work, dedication and shrewd business moves into a fortune before his death in 1992.
Before he died, he established a five-member board of directors — now consisting of Blake, Gary Smith, Dick Schneider and school superintendents Bill Bentley (Sequim) and Jane Pryne (Port Angeles) — to oversee the foundation’s fund to support community groups.
Foundation grants are given to charitable organizations in Clallam County, with priority to those organizations that provide food, housing, clothing, medical care and other programs that may enrich the lives of the poor and needy in the county.
The foundation generally awards relatively small grants, Blake said. In 2010, the foundation gave away nearly $300,000, spreading the grants among 60 different agencies county wide.
But the community playfields project was different, not unlike the $250,000 donation the foundation granted to help build the Boys & Girls Club.
The board voted unanimously to approve the donation.
“I think Albert would be so proud to have his name connected with a project that will so positively impact our community,” said Michael McAleer, a Sequim Family Advocates board member.
“The Haller grant was the break we’d been working for and the momentum it creates should help us reach our goal.”
Said Jon Jack, another Sequim Family Advocates board member, “To see the community’s broad support for this project has been exciting.”
In 2008, Sequim Family Advocates emerged, growing out of what board members saw as a need for more open recreation space for Sequim’s citizens, particularly youths.
Stevenson says he’s seen cramped fields being used by high school and middle school football players, youth league football teams and fall soccer programs at the same time.
With heavy use by school and recreation teams, soccer fields owned by the school district have fallen into dis-repair, he says.
“The thing we saw last winter was that Sequim’s school district fields we are overusing are really showing the wear,” Stevenson said. He notes that the Helen Haller Elementary School field was deemed unsafe for fall soccer and the fields south of Hendrickson Road near Sequim’s middle school and high school have sizable dirt spots, divots and potholes.
“The school district is doing everything they can to keep (fields) playable with the funds they have,” Stevenson says. “Those are tough field conditions from a safety and quality standpoint. That’s due to overuse. We’re clearly maxed out. This winter was a clear reminder why we started this project in the first place.”
Sequim Family Advocates approached the City of Sequim and Department of Ecology, co-owners of the Water Reclamation Site, about using the grassy field for community playfields in 2008 and 2009. Both city and state entities signed off on the project, and after permits were approved in recent months, the group began fundraising in earnest.
The project has drawn some ire from neighbors, who filed a petition with the City of Sequim in the summer of 2010. But the projects were brought before Sequim city councilors at public meetings as early as October 2008 and unanimously approved by the city council in May 2010.
“For me, the thing that triggered (my support for the project) was that the city was stepping up to the plate,” Blake said.
The Sequim Community Playfields project transitions the 14 acres north of Carrie Blake Park from an unused field into a home for up to six full soccer fields, or several smaller fields, for use by youth and adult sports teams alike.
Funds raised will help not only level and grade the currently unused fields nourished by reclaimed water, but also extend the walking trail from the reclamation pond to the city band shell and James Center for the Performing Arts.
Two portions of the walking trail will be slightly shifted to allow for the rectangular playfields.
A section for parking — about 100 spots, including American Disabilities Act-compliant spaces — will be constructed just south of the playfields, giving ample parking for those attending games or users of the band shell at the James Center, Stevenson says.
Though the fields are to be used predominantly for sports and recreation, they may be used for a number of other community events as well, Stevenson says.
No structures (such as a storage shed) are scheduled to be built, Stevenson says, until the group gets to a second phase of the project.
First, the group is aiming at completing its fundraising for the fields. Stevenson says he expects the community to complete the project’s fundraising goal quickly, especially after getting an endorsement (and major donation) from the Albert Haller Foundation.
“This is the break we needed to have to make sure the project could happen,” Stevenson says. “Our fundraising goal is within reach but we’re not there yet.
“Every donation is going to be a big part of finishing this off.”
Reach Michael Dashiell at firstname.lastname@example.org.