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April 4, 2014

Rose seniors pitch idea for future of Laker Stadium

PARIS, ILL. — The work continues on the renovation of one Paris, Ill. “landmark” and some students have shared their ideas on its next stage.

On Friday, a seven-member group overseeing the renovation of Laker Stadium, a ballpark located at Twin Lakes Park north of Paris’ downtown, heard a presentation from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology engineering students on their recommendations for the next stage of the project.

In a meeting inside Paris City Hall, Rose-Hulman seniors Kate Dangel, Terry Chin, Jacob Kelley and James Pillischafske spoke to the Laker Stadium Board and other attendees about their recommendations, a product of a year-long school project.

The recommendations included adding more bleachers, renovating the scorer’s tower, adding a pavilion to the concession stand, an access road to the north side parking lot and more parking.

The civil engineering students want to help turn the Laker Stadium not only into a place that fans and players will want to visit but also into “the place” to play baseball. Their work on Laker Stadium is part of their senior design project, a requirement for graduation.

Laker Stadium, described by City Commissioner Harry Hughes as a “landmark” of Paris, was the home field of the Paris Lakers, a professional minor league baseball team in the 1950s. A member of the Mississippi-Ohio Valley League from 1950 to 1954, the Lakers then became a Class D affiliate in the Chicago Cubs organization(1955-1959) before it folded on Feb. 12, 1960.

Lakers Stadium hosted the second Mississippi-Ohio Valley League All-Star Game in 1951, according to www.mwl During the 1956 season, the games drew about 60,350 fans, according to a Tribune-Star article.

It was also the field where some popular baseball names played. One former player, Clint McCord was “arguably the Lakers best player ever,” according to a 2008 Tribune-Star article.

“Demonstrating what a complete player he was, McCord had 50 straight errorless games at first base in 1951, then went 40 games without striking out in 1952,” the article stated.

Many people in Paris remember those days, Hughes said. The baseball enthusiasts consider the Laker Stadium ballpark “hallowed ground.”

“It’s ... part of Paris,” Hughes, who also acts a liaison between the board and the city council, said.

But even after the Lakers folded, the field was used by local and high school teams. Over the years,  “wear and tear” started to become visible on what used to be described as a “fenced square with unsheltered bleacher seating 2,500 people.” In later years, only the original playing field remained.

Seeing that the ballpark was “in dire need of repair,” Paris officials formed the Laker Stadium Board and launched a fundraising effort for the refurbishment effort in 2008.

Hughes said several parts of the field needed repair or replaced including the dugouts and outfield fence. The elevation on the field was also “in bad shape.”

But stage one of the renovation was actually done in 2004, Hughes said, when new lights were put up in the stadium. During the second stage in 2008, the field was completely redone. A survey was done, the field was leveled, new dugouts and backstop were installed. The deteriorating wooden dugouts were replaced by new concrete block dugouts in 2008. There were also new concession stands and restrooms added later, Hughes said. “It’s a very, very nice field,” he said.

 About $200,000 to $300,000 have been spent on the renovation project so far, Hughes said, but he pointed out that no taxpayer funds have been used. The funds came from fundraising efforts by the board, including running the concession stands during local games. The completion of the project depends on funding, Hughes said.

Many “great people in the community” also donated their time and talents for the project, he added.

Ideas for the third stage of the renovation were presented by Rose-Hulman students in a presentation called “Laker Stadium: Outside the box, but inside the Diamond.”

One of the recommendations has to do with the bleachers. Currently, the field has two bleachers, five rows each, which can seat about 50 people. The student’s vision included giving the park a total capacity of 1,000 people so they recommend having three bleachers with 10 rows each.

“This will give it more of a grandstand feel,” Dangel said.

They also suggested renovating the scorer’s tower, which is currently a smaller, two-story building that can accommodate two adults. Under the students’ plans, there will be a bigger, two story building that can fit about six people at the top.

A third recommendation is building a pavilion attached to the current concession stand and the fourth one has to do with transportation. They suggested creating a parking lot on the south side of the field and an access road which will run parallel to Steidl Road and lead to the parking spaces on the field’s north side. They also suggested creating handicap parking behind the concession stand on the park’s south west side.

 The presentation also included a cost analysis and the students estimated the project to cost a total of $201,000.

A presentation will be made to the City Council at the end of the month, Hughes said, and then fundraising will begin.

Board Chairman Herman Taylor said the students helped them establish an attainable goal for the ballpark, which will benefit the youth in the community.

The third stage is the “finishing touches to the ballpark restoration as it was originally envisioned,” he said.

To the students, working on the plans was “a really good experience” and “a great learning tool,” Dangel said.

Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or

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