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Julien Field without lights as improvements called into question
Julien Field
Several improvement projects at the Julien Field have been removed after being reported to the Division of the State Architect for noncompliance (FRANKIE TOVAR/The Journal).

While anxiously awaiting to see if conditions next spring will allow for a baseball season, Turlock American Little League is also dealing with required changes to the Julien Field after a number of fixtures were found to be non-compliant with the Division of the State Architect.

Through a partnership between TALL, Turlock Unified School District and the City of Turlock, generations of Little Leaguers have played on the Julien Field every spring — except for this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Throughout the last 50-plus years, many improvements have been put into place at the field, from light poles and a scoreboard to bleachers and fencing. 

The relationship between TALL and TUSD has always been an “awkward dance,” Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Barney Gordon said, as the Julien Field sits on the elementary campus, but is mowed and maintained by TALL. There had previously been no formal agreement between the two entities, but rather something TALL President Otto Askil described as a “handshake deal made years ago” which allowed the league to utilize the field. 

Gordon said that in February, he met with TALL to discuss the program, its relationship with TUSD, the Julien Field itself and to explore how the two organizations could best work together. They worked to rectify several previously-unaddressed items, like a formal agreement between the two relating to field maintenance and improvements. 

“That, combined with the additional requirement the Department of the State Architect places on school facilities and their applicability to the Julien Field, has long hampered needed and desired developments and upgrades of the Julien Field,” Gordon said.

According to Gordon, one of their first courses of action in February was to determine what issues currently existed at the Julien Field which didn’t fully meet DSA requirements, as many improvements, like the light poles, had been put in place decades ago. Additionally, a complaint to DSA from a concerned citizen in Turlock questioned the compliance of the field. With DSA’s guidance, the light poles in the outfield, which exceeded 35 feet, as well as the “green monster” in the outfield were removed as they did not meet safety requirements.

The concerned citizen who filed the complaint is former TUSD Trustee and current candidate for Area 5 Grady Welch, who questioned a new fence at the field as well as new LED lights on the light poles. According to Welch, he believed that the new fence and lighting required a state inspector to come for inspection, and was curious as to why donations of the fence and lights, which both exceeded $500, were not accepted by the Board of Trustees. 

Askil told the Journal that half of the cost for the LED lights and the labor to install them were donated by Nelson & Sons Electric. Due to the complaint, about half of the light poles — those over 35 feet that were in the outfield — have been removed. Nelsons & Sons has come back out to the field to quote new light poles, which Askil believes could cost anywhere from $80,000 to $100,000 with DSA involved.

“For at least 40-plus years those poles have stood there without incident,” Askil said. “It doesn’t hurt me, it hurts the kids. We cannot play if we don’t have light.”

As far as donations go, Gordon stated that while traditionally the Board acknowledges most donations over $500, it is not a policy requirement and, under some circumstances, not done.

“It’s concerning, if that is true, why would they accept some donations through the Board but not accept donations that require a state inspector costing thousands of dollars,” Welch said. 

The fence in question was completed near the beginning of January, Gordon said, after TALL requested they themselves fund the replacement of the outfield fence. This was not brought before the Board for approval because none of the improvements at Julien Field have ever been brought before the Board, he stated, and did not require inspection because it is less than six feet tall.

The fence does affect the field’s egress, or exit, though, which requires an inspection.

Other improvements at the Julien Field in the past have also required DSA inspection, like the scoreboard in 2009 and 2016.

“Previous upgrades that have been completed at the field have required DSA approval. For example, around 2008 the scoreboard was installed which required DSA structural review, approval and inspections because it is over 8 feet in height,” Gordon said.

In order to provide for clarity when it came to improvements moving forward, TUSD identified the facility as a “non-school facility” in the spring by Board Resolution, meaning that any future projects on the field need to meet the same building codes and safety-related requirements as any other public facility, but are not subject to the extra requirements, reviews and inspections required for school facilities. 

Additionally, TUSD worked with TALL to enter into a formal agreement for their use of the Julien Field that closely matches the agreement Turlock National Little League has with the City of Turlock for their use of Soderquist Field. This agreement gives TALL exclusive use of the Julien Field, but it remains fully owned and under the auspices of TUSD.

“We look forward to partnering with and working closely with TALL in the future to see young athletes return to play ball as well as work with them to see long needed improvements at the Julien Field,” Gordon said.