In 1960, the city leased five acres to the National Guard for construction of an armory. Seven years later, part of the land was leased back for use as a youth baseball field.
Since then, the armory and field have coexisted in west Turlock. Soldiers train at times within earshot of Little League games at the Soderquist Park diamond.
The Guard now needs more space to park its vehicles and equipment, thanks to an increase in the force stationed at the armory. It at first planned to reclaim the park site, as allowed by the 1960 lease, but it is working with the city on a compromise that would keep the field in play.
“There will never be a single game canceled across the street,” said Staff Sgt. Shane Garber, one of seven full-time soldiers at the armory, during a tour Wednesday morning.
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The tentative plan is to fence off part of Alaska Street, which runs between the field and armory, so the Guard could store vehicles and equipment there. It would have its soldiers park their own vehicles in the Soderquist lot during training weekends, on a schedule that meshes with the Little League’s. The arrangement would last two to three years while the Guard works out long-range plans for the unit.
“They recognize the impact (a field closure) would have on our community, so they have graciously offered that alternative,” said Allison Van Guilder, director of parks, recreation and public facilities for the city. She briefed the City Council on the plan last week and plans to seek a final vote in November.
Turlock National Little League, which has about 400 players, uses the Soderquist field from March through July for games involving 7- to 12-year-olds. Older teams play elsewhere. Soderquist is open to the public when not in league use.
The armory houses the 149th Chemical Company of the California Army National Guard. It is part of the defense against terrorist attacks and other threats involving chemical, biological and nuclear materials. Nothing dangerous is kept on the site, said Brandon Honig, a public-affairs specialist with the California Military Department.
The armory is doubling to 114 soldiers after recently absorbing a similar unit in Gilroy, prompting the need for more space, he said. The soldiers typically train one weekend a month, coming from homes mainly in the Northern San Joaquin Valley. Guard members are subject to overseas deployments, but Honig said the 149th is mostly a domestic unit.
The armory has Humvees and other vehicles that could be used for decontamination and other tasks, Garber said. Closing the short stretch of Alaska Street would provide more room for parking while not affecting any other properties, he said. The street is within the area covered by the 99-year lease.
Soderquist has a single baseball field sized for the younger players, plus bleachers, a scoreboard, lights and a concession stand. The league helps with maintenance.
It will have to adjust its schedule so it is not using Soderquist on the one Saturday a month when the armory is in training. Families also will find parking tighter because of the closed part of Alaska Street.
Ralph Serpa, a Little League board member and umpire-in-chief, said the city is short of youth baseball fields and the compromise with the armory is welcome. “It’s definitely very important to the youth of Turlock,” he said. “The city, I must say, is very sensitive to making sure this is handled correctly and the children have a place to play.”