Hey, batter batter

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While requests for millions of dollars in renovations at Big Island schools were scrapped, lawmakers signed off on a project that will give future baseball and softball players at Waiakea High School an opportunity to perfect their swings in a new — and costly — batting cage.

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While requests for millions of dollars in renovations at Big Island schools were scrapped, lawmakers signed off on a project that will give future baseball and softball players at Waiakea High School an opportunity to perfect their swings in a new — and costly — batting cage.

The cost to Hawaii taxpayers: $450,000.

The money budgeted for the facility is among the more than $200 million in Capital Improvement Project funding secured by Big Island legislators for projects across the island.

On Wednesday, the proposed budget was sent to Gov. David Ige for approval. It includes more than $9 million for Big Island schools.

Tommy Correa, athletic director at Waiakea High, said there is no blueprint for the batting cage at this point, but that the school is envisioning a covered, multi-use facility with bathrooms that would be used by the baseball and softball teams, as well as for other sports.

As much as it might sound like a “whopping chunk” of money for a batting cage, he said, the facility likely won’t be anything extravagant.

“The school will put out a wish list of what it would like to see,” he said.

Rory Inouye, coach of the Waiakea Warriors baseball team, said the announcement is exciting for the program. Currently, the baseball team has batting practice in a standard outdoor net setup, which he said often proves problematic in rainy Hilo.

“When April showers come, sometimes you don’t get out there for the whole week,” he said.

The CIP funding request did not come from the Department of Education but rather Rep. Clift Tsuji, D-Hilo, who said he was approached three years ago by the mother of a high school baseball player later drafted into the majors.

Tsuji called it a “worthwhile CIP proposal,” and said it’s important student-athletes have safe facilities.

“That might be a little bit on the high side,” he said of the price, “but, yes, I wanted to make sure we had adequate funding.”

While he hadn’t heard about the school’s vision for an enclosed facility, Tsuji said he hopes Waiakea can make it happen.

Brent Suyama, a spokesman for the DOE, said the department’s Facilities Development Branch selected a consultant for the project April 24.

“The consultant will work with FDB and the school to come up with the design and plan for construction,” Suyama wrote in an email.

In March, the proposed state budget contained funding for several school renovation projects, including $2.46 million for Hilo High School, $1.23 million for Konawaena Middle School and $780,000 for Kohala High School. Honokaa High School also was in the running to receive $1 million for the construction of bleachers and another $350,000 to renovate its tennis court. Funding for all those projects was later removed from the budget.

The $450,000 figure for Waiakea’s batting cage includes $1,000 for planning, $1,000 for design and $448,000 for construction, as detailed in House Bill 500, the state budget bill for fiscal years 2015-16 and 2016-17.

Told how much the Big Island school is slated to receive for the project, Dennis Boyle, national sales manager for Batting Cages USA in New York, joked that his company just so happens to have a cage for sale at that price.

Recently, the company designed and installed a top-of-the-line, professional-grade cage inside the home of New York Yankees Manager Joe Girardi. The price tag, including cage, pitching machine, L-screen and other equipment, was less than $20,000, according to Boyle.

“I’d like to sell them 20 (cages),” he laughed, referring to Waiakea.

The Waiakea Warriors were crowned state champions of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association in 2012 and finished the Big Island Interscholastic Federation season that year with a perfect 17-0 record.

In 2014, Waiakea pitcher Kodi Medeiros was selected as the 12th overall pick by the Milwaukee Brewers in the Major League Baseball draft.

Waiakea High also is preparing for the construction of a new 1,500-seat stadium surrounding its new track and football field. The $3.05 million facility will include new restrooms, a ticket booth, concession stand, first-aid stand, bleachers, press box and fire lane.

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Construction, Suyama said, is “ready to begin.”

Email Chris D’Angelo at cdangelo@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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