The Andover City Council deflated the idea of building a sports dome in the near future and instead will focus on weighing the pros and cons of real grass and artificial turf.
Members of a task force met five times over the past four months to research whether Andover needed more grass fields, turf fields or a dome to meet the participation demands of local sports associations. For the first time, the task force sat in the same room with the city council to update the elected officials on where they were at.
Although it is way too early to say what will happen, the indication on the council was to not concentrate too much on a dome facility right now. The council expressed interest in an artificial turf field in the vicinity of Andover City Hall, the YMCA/Community Center, Sunshine Park and two schools.
Additional grass fields are still an option. One idea mentioned was to upgrade the under-utilized Fox Meadows Park on the east side of Seventh Avenue and between 157th Avenue and Valley Drive. The downside of that area for having any major field improvements with lights is it is not centrally located and there are more homes nearby, said Ted Butler, chairperson of the task force and of the Andover Planning and Zoning Commission.
The volunteer group is now tasked with finalizing its proposal to be presented to the council in June.
Butler encouraged everyone to not completely scrap the dome idea. Even if the facility is not built in the near future, he said the city should at least plan for it. Staff will look at how much an outdoor artificial turf field would cost that would be configured to handle a future dome over it.
According to Butler, the associations indicated that the area near the YMCA/Community Center and City Hall would be ideal if the city moved forward with an indoor facility.
“I think master planning is important for the community center area,” Butler said. “We have a very nice area right now. I think we’re starting to see pressure to grow and expand that facility down the road, and I think we need to think about all the pieces that might fit in even if they don’t all fit in at the same time.”
City Administrator Jim Dickinson told the task force that the city needs to see specifically what the demand is so the city does not overbuild at a time when there are a lot of demands for limited dollars.
A policy the council will have to address is whether to charge sports associations for using outdoor fields when these groups have not typically paid a fee.
“I’ve been around here long enough to know it’s a fairly volatile discussion,” Dickinson said.
Mayor Mike Gamache and Councilmember Julie Trude said they would be open to charging a fee for an artificial turf field because this project would be more expensive than a grass field.
“It’s something special,” Gamache said.
Butler said a benefit of the field fee is it allows associations to pay when they use the facilities and not feel pressured to make a huge investment upfront, which may lead to one group getting priority over another.
Gamache suggested the council should consider the idea of a park bond referendum similar to what the city did in 2006 when it put a referendum on the ballot to pay for the purchase of open space that would be protected from development. His thoughts were the city would not have to figure out where to pull the money from in the budget and the associations would not have to potentially raise registration fees to cover field usage fees.
“A bond means we have the money here and now and it needs to be spent on that,” Gamache said. “It can’t be spent on anything else. It has to be spent on that because that’s what the voters voted for.”
According to Dickinson, timing would be tight for a bond referendum to fund a 2013 project. He said the county would need to be notified by August in order to get a question on the ballot this fall.
Trude said the 2010 Census demonstrates how young the Andover population is. According to the Census, 7,389 of the 30,598 people in Andover are 14 years old or younger.
“It kind of feeds into what you’re planning for,” Trude told the task force.
Butler said the task force agreed that Andover has good facilities, especially for practices, but there are not enough regulation fields for games.
The challenge will be determining whether a grass field or artificial turf is the best long-term solution. A grass field clearly costs less to build — about $350,000 — compared with a turf field — about $1 million, according to estimates from Assistance Finance Director Lee Brezinka.
However, the task force estimated an artificial turf field could be used twice as much as a grass field. The city has asked associations to let the fields “rest” from time-to-time or asked them to not used fields for extended periods when the grass field is beat up from being overused.
The maintenance costs would be less. Brezinka estimated $9,000 a year for a grass field and $1,000 a year for a turf field.
These annual maintenance cost do not factor in replacement costs.
Eric Hagen is at email@example.com