By Erich Wagner (File photo)
Young ballplayers will have nowhere to brush up on the fundamentals this winter. Alexandria Little League canceled its offseason baseball clinic after a public school gym raised rental fees by five times the rate charged last year.
Sterling Gilliam, president of the youth baseball program, said the group was planning a second winter clinic for children this month, with help from T.C. baseball head coach Jim Blair. But when he went to Alexandria City Public Schools to reserve time at the gym, he was informed that rates had jumped from $50 per hour to $285.
“We penciled it out, but we could not make it fiscally doable by absorbing that fee — it was just too much,” Gilliam said. “If we wanted to still have it in Alexandria, we would have had to pass along those costs to the players and their families.”
The Little Leaguers are in good company. Officials with the Colonial District of the Boy Scouts of America had to move a planned merit badge jamboree on February 8 to Bishop Ireton High School after running into similar rate hikes.
“FYI: Public schools now charge exorbitant rent. Last year’s venue more than tripled in price so we’re working on private schools and churches,” wrote organizer Chris Marston in a letter to local troop leaders.
In June, the Alexandria City School Board voted unanimously to update regulations for groups to rent district facilities. The new rate for nonprofit use of high school gyms is $385 per hour — though school officials apparently offered the Little League a $100 discount — while the rate listed in the budget for the 2012-13 school year was $200. Little League officials, though, recall paying for less than the advertised rate that year.
Gilliam tried to get clarification about the hike or at least some sort of dispensation — the city department of recreation considers the Little League an affiliate since it has no baseball program — beginning December 13. But school officials failed to respond until January 3, making it too difficult to relocate the clinic.
“We chose not to move to a Fairfax County facility, which was the next-best option, because of the late notification and the time it took to adjudicate this,” Gilliam said. “It took a number of weeks to get a firm answer.”
Gilliam said Fairfax County officials offered a $106-per-hour rate and would waive the one-time $128 cleaning fee if Little League organizers kept things tidy. He stressed that Margaret Walsh, executive director of student services and policy development for the school system, inaccurately reported Fairfax charged $212 per hour in her January 3 letter confirming the city’s rate.
Walsh and school spokeswoman Kelly Alexander did not respond to repeated requests for comment before the Times’ deadline. School board vice chairman Christopher Lewis said he could not comment specifically about the Alexandria Little League situation, only noting that the board was looking into it.
Lewis said the related issue involving the Boy Scouts simply could be a case of miscommunication. Although Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops should pay a $200 fee to use high school gyms, those fees are waived if the troop provides documentation verifying it’s a legitimate organization.
“We’re happy to work with the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts to clarify what category and what their fees should be,” Lewis said.
But upon being presented with the discrepancies between the rates charged to the Alexandria Little League last year and this year, Lewis couldn’t explain it.
“I don’t know how to account for that,” he said. “But look: Obviously this [policy change] wasn’t targeted at the Little League. It applies to all nonprofits.
“We heard from a lot of folks back in June and had a lot of discussion with PTAs. I don’t remember hearing from the Little League, but I’m glad to be hearing from them now.”