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Board agrees to pursue 'turf' at Battle Point

The park district would put up $200k, the soccer club will raise the balance.

Saying improved sports fields are long overdue, the park board agreed this week to “partner” with the Bainbridge Island Youth Soccer Club to put two artificial turf fields at Battle Point Park.

“I consider this a gift to the public, that the soccer club would come to the board with this proposal,” said Dave Shorett, park commissioner, at Thursday’s board meeting.

Slated for improvement are two dirt-and-sand fields on the west side of the park, said to be generally unplayable most of the year.

The soccer club proposes to raise up to $800,000 in private funds to install “FieldTurf,” a popular artificial surface, on both fields. The park district would contribute another $200,000 to the project, toward a total project cost estimated at $1 million.

“Soccer is part of what parks are supposed to do,” club president Laura Sachs said, calling the 1,100-player youth soccer club “a model organization.”

“Out of our generosity, we want to partner with the parks,” she said.

Earlier this year, the club proposed to improve the fields and install overhead lights, which drew vociferous oppositions from neighbors. The park board vetoed the lights, but agreed to work with any group that would come forward with a plan to refurbish the playing surfaces.

With lights off the table, Sachs said Thursday that her club would commit to not having a public address system, and to ensuring adequate field drainage and traffic mitigation.

The new proposal was nevertheless criticized by several neighbors in attendance, who cited environmental and procedural concerns.

“I get the sense that we have a private group that has a lot of money, that wants things to go in a certain direction,” one neighbor said, “and a board that may be captured by that special interest.”

Park officials countered that the previous dispute with neighbors had little to do with the fields’ playing surface.

“People were, in my opinion, focused on the light issue,” park board chair Kirk Robinson said.

Andy Sheffer, a soccer dad and employee of the Seattle parks department, testified for the soccer club as to the popularity and utility of artificial turf fields at various facilities in Seattle.

Sheffer noted that synthetic fields do not require fertilizer or other expensive maintenance, and can take so much use as to allow other grass fields to be “rotated” and better maintained from year to year.

“Kids love to play on it,” agreed John Sloat, publicist for the soccer club. “It’s a fantastic surface.”

The park district and the club now will draft an agreement under which to develop and manage the fields, with a formal plan to go before the board at a later date. Still at issue are the size of the fields, fencing, and city permits, among other considerations.

“We’re just at the initial stage,” Shorett said. “There’s going to be more process.”

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