Andover youth football, lacrosse and soccer associations made the pitch for more playing fields and the elected officials for now are supportive.
“We have the information we need,” Mayor Mike Gamache told the task force charged with determining what the need was. “We just need to decide on the best way to move forward.”
The Andover City Council now has estimates on short- and long-term costs of an artificial turf field compared to traditional grass. The council must ultimately determine whether the fields should be real grass or artificial turf. The key question to answer will be, how will this be paid for?
The council took the first step July 3 by agreeing to pay Legacy Christian Academy $305,000 to buy a 39-acre property at the northeast corner of 161st Avenue and Tulip Street. Capital equipment reserves will fund this land purchase, according to City Administrator Jim Dickinson. The farmer using the site can harvest their crops this year and the homeowner living on the property must vacate by the time the sale officially closes in early September, he said.
The school when it was under the name of Meadow Creek Christian School purchased this property in 2003 with the goal of closing its current location along Bunker Lake Boulevard by Meadow Creek Church and building a new school in northern Andover. The school has since shifted its focus to a site in southwest Ramsey just north of Highway 10 and west of Armstrong Boulevard.
According to the discussion that took place during a June 27 council workshop meeting, at least three full-size fields and a parking lot could fit on this property. Dickinson said between 30 and 32 acres can be built on and the rest is wetland.
Gamache said the council was interested in land near the public works building and Sunshine Park, but the landowners did not want to sell. Fox Meadows Park was also considered, but the site was deemed only big enough for one field.
The task force included representatives from the baseball, football, hockey, lacrosse and soccer associations, two councilmembers and two members of the park and recreation commission. The group met eight times between January and June. Some members toured dome facilities in metro suburbs such as Maple Grove and Vadnais Heights, but the task force ultimately recommended more affordable outdoor field options.
Ted Butler, chairperson of the task force and of the city’s parks and recreation commission, told the council that he would “strongly encourage action sooner rather than later” because if the city decides to seed a field to grow grass, it would likely not be available for use until at least 2015.
The rest of 2012 will be spent meeting with neighbors by the potential site, finalizing the engineering work, laying out the site and seeking bids. Construction work could not begin until next year and it takes a couple of years for seed to adequately grow strong grass, according to city staff.
A field where grass sod is rolled out could be ready by 2014 and an artificial turf field could be ready by next year, Butler said.
“The current facilities aren’t meeting the current demand,” he said. “If participation continues to grow, which we think it will, then that will exacerbate the problem.”
Numbers are obviously preliminary and based on what others have paid. Lee Brezinka, assistant finance director, estimated it could cost $350,000 to put in one full-size grass field with lights, while a full-size artificial turf field with lights could cost about $1 million.
Although the annual cost of maintaining artificial turf would be cheaper, the fake grass costs more in the long-run if future councils decide to keep it, according to numbers presented to the council.
Artificial turf annual maintenance costs may only be about $1,000 per year, but artificial turf may need to be replaced every 10 to 15 years, according to the task force presentation. The replacement cost should be much less than the initial cost because the base of the field can remain, but the new field could still cost $350,000 to $400,000 in today’s dollars. Therefore, a separate replacement fund and a revenue source would need to be set up.
Brezinka said that a portion of the $9,000 annual fee to maintain a grass field would be set aside for future replacement. Even after 15 years, the cost of $135,000 would still be much less than buying a new artificial turf field, according to numbers the task force presented.
Gamache said he was interested in hearing about artificial turf, but he is skeptical of approving one of these more expensive fields for a city park when Anoka-Hennepin School District high schools do not even have them. The way he looks at it, they could potentially get three grass fields for the price of one artificial turf field.
Artificial turf is more expensive, but more durable than real grass. The task force estimated that a grass field could be used around 620 hours per year and an artificial turf field could be used about 1,220 hours per year. A grass field needs to “rest” at least one day a week because of the wear and tear from all the games, Butler said.
It is unclear whether any or all the three youth athletic associations benefiting from this project would contribute to a grass field. The task force reported during its June 27 presentation that “associations have shown a willingness to pay a reasonable fee per hour for use of an outdoor artificial turf facility.”
The North Metro Soccer Association donated $100,000 to give Hawk Ridge Park new natural grass soccer fields.
Sean Beggin, a soccer association board member who was on the task force, said the association will “continue to work collaboratively with the cities of Andover, Oak Grove, St. Francis, Ham Lake and surrounding areas to meet the needs of kids in our program.” He was hesitant to say what the association would consider a reasonable fee.
Mike Johnson, president of the Andover Football Association, said the board has discussed making an initial donation. His understanding is any ongoing hourly user fees would only happen if the fields are artificial.
Youth sports leagues where a majority of its members come from Andover currently do not have to pay any rent to the city for using grass fields according to Todd Haas, assistant director of public works. Organizations from outside Andover are charged if renting grass fields for a tournament.
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org