The framework is set and construction continues at the Sapa-Johnsrud Baseball Field in Columbia Falls as crews work to replace the grandstands that were lost in a fire more than two years ago.
Since the beginning of June, Jay Hoerner and his crew have been hard at work building the new stands, a project that they hope to have completed by September. With a total project cost of more than $250,000, the new stands will replace the ones that were built with volunteer labor at a cost of roughly $30,000 in 1989.
According to Glacier Babe Ruth Baseball Board Member Trevor Kjensrud, the road to reconstruction has not been easy, but the community truly came together to make the project possible.
“Community is everything and this community really stepped up to get this done, not just monetarily, but with volunteers and more to make sure our kids continue to have a good experience. It’s a great thing to see and we have really seen it with this project,” Kjensrud said. “Jay Hoerner has stepped up to come in with his crew and build it for us, which is nice. There have been so many that have helped us get this project done. When it first happened, we were just flooded in the mail with checks from $15 to several thousand dollars and more.”
The original grandstands were lost June 17, 2016 in a fire that is believed to have been started by fireworks in trashcan that was next to the structure. Originally built in 1989, the structure had stood for 26 years.
“It was a landmark. You don’t see many wood stadiums anymore. It was built with the blood, sweat and tears of volunteers from the community and there were a lot of tears shed when it burned,” Kjensrud said. “It meant a lot to a lot of people. It really hurt to see it go up in flames.”
In less than 10 days after the fire, more than $30,000 had already been donated to help replace the stands. Within two months, that number had grown to $90,000, but it still was not enough. In the spring of 2017, officials with the state tourism office reached out about grant opportunities after reading an article in the Daily Inter Lake about the fundraising efforts. With the help of then Glacier Babe Ruth President Ray Queen and his wife, Kris, the project eventually received a $102,466 grant from the state tourism office, but still faced several obstacles.
The Sapa-Johnsrud Field sits on land owned by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation that is leased by the Columbia Falls Baseball Association. Glacier Babe Ruth, in turn, leases the facility from the baseball association. That arrangement means that the DNRC must review and approve all plans for the new stands.
With all of the red tape seemingly out of the way, Glacier Babe Ruth hopes to have the new stands completed and ready in time for the 2019 season and plans to have a dedication ceremony to commemorate the completion of the project.
“We are building these stands basically exactly the same as the old ones,” Kjensrud said. “There were a lot of memories made in those old stands and we are hoping to have just as many made in the new ones.”