Gyro field being turfed for turf

The City of Chilliwack has scrapped immediate plans for a gyro all-weather field, choosing to go with artificial turf.

Oh gyro field.

We hardly knew ye.

Four weeks ago, Chilliwack MLA John Les swooped into town with a $250,000 provincial grant in hand, announcing the imminent construction of an all-weather gyro field.

Cheers and clapping from all.

At the time, Chilliwack FC president Andrea Laycock tempered her enthusiasm, noting that it was ‘better than nothing.’ She expressed hope that the city would eventually turn it into a turf pitch.

Now, according to a report from city staff, it looks like her wish will be granted. The report recommends the deferral of the gyro field project and directs staff to begin planning for construction of a new artificial turf field in 2013.

Cheers and clapping from all.

“It’s great to have a forward thinking council and staff,” Laycock said Wednesday morning.

The gyro field was to be installed at the farthest end of Townsend Park, adjacent to the sewage treatment plant.

The artificial turf field approved Tuesday by council won’t be going there. Rather, it will replace the grass pitch at Exhibition Stadium.

“Selfishly, we’d love to see Townsend Park developed, and we’ll work with the city to make it happen,” Laycock said. “But really it’s six of one, half dozen of the other. Having that artificial turf field anywhere gives us the ability to get more of our kids training on that surface.”

Another main occupant of Exhibition Stadium is the BC Football Conference Chilliwack Huskers. New head coach Tyson St. James said the turfing of that pitch could be hugely beneficial to his team.

“This team has struggled in the past with field time, lighting and venues for practices,” he noted. “Having one consistent place to practice and play games would give this team a new identity, improve recruiting potential  and give our players a better concept of home field.”

The city’s long-term financial plan called for an artificial turf field to be built by 2016.

Les’s provincial grant allowed for the change in plans.

By advancing the project three years, the city deferred the gyro field project and funneled its $580,000 cost towards the artificial turf project. The provincial grant also helps reduce the city’s cost for the new field by an additional $250,000.

The estimated cost range for the new field is now between $1.7 and $2 million, but councillor Jason Lum believes that will be money very well spent.

“It’s really important that we continue to build on some the facilities we already have, and our infrastructure,” Lum said at the council meeting. “It helps build our competitive economic edge, and something like this helps us get up there competing for tournaments with places like Kamloops, which calls itself the City of Tournaments.”

“I would like to see us attracting more tournaments to Chilliwack, since it brings people who stay in local hotels and eat in our restaurants.”

City staff laid out several compelling reasons for the change of plans.

The gyro field would have been a durable rock dust surface requiring little maintenance. But its unyielding surface, closely resembling a baseball infield, would have been quite miserable to play on.

“Unfortunately, the surface is not a favourite for user groups because it is hard wearing on both the players and the equipment,” the report read.

While the gyro pitch would have been well used in the bad-weather months (November to March), it would have sat idle the rest of the year as user groups gravitated to grass.

Replacing a grass field with artificial turf allows for 8-10 times the amount of activity and year-round demand.

“The multi-sport surface would provide superior drainage and year-round availability which would permit the amount of annual usable hours to increase from 160 hours per year on grass to 1,900 prime-time hours per year on turf,” the report observed.

“For our little guys (mini ball in the fall), when the field at Fairfield Island closes, that’s a minimum of 800 kids that don’t play,” Laycock added. “That’s very frustrating when you’re trying to provide a service to the community and you can’t. This gives us the chance to potentially move programs around, possibly relocating mini-ball to turf.”

The gyro field would have been completed this year where the turf won’t be done till next. But Laycock said the end result will be more than worth the wait.

“It’s of no issue to us,” she said. “We can go through another season of closures, and this is certainly way better than waiting until 2016.”