The Abbotsford board of education has decided that community recreation activities will no longer be approved for booking on the artificial turf sports field at Abbotsford Senior Secondary.
As of Aug. 1, the field will be restricted to school district use. The board made the decision at its public meeting on June 14, saying they want to extend the remaining life of the field from a projected two years to five.
It’s the latest back-and-forth between the City of Abbotsford and the school district after issues have been lingering related to the artificial turf field at W. J. Mouat Secondary.
Abbotsford council voted in January to end its joint use agreement (JUA) with the school district for the Mouat field, which requires replacing. That agreement expired in May.
A city staff report at that time stated that the replacement cost would be $1 million. The report, based on 2019 data (before the pandemic), stated that Mouat is the least used of Abbotsford’s five turf fields, with a utilization rate of 36 per cent during prime hours and 6.4 per cent during non-prime.
City spokesperson Aletta Vanderheyden said the field at Mouat was constructed by the city in 2007 with an original investment of $1.925 million. She added that, over the past 14 years, the city has regularly performed maintenance to extend its life.
The city offered to split the potential cost 50/50 of a new field with the school district, but they were only able to offer $500,000 and thus were unable to commit to a true 50/50 split. As a result, an agreement to jointly fund the new field at Mouat could not be met, Vanderheyden said.
As for the Abbotsford Senior field, the board of education stated that ongoing capital replacement and maintenance costs necessary to maintain the artificial turf sports field agreement with the city would significantly impact the school district’s budget.
“Regrettably, the city is looking to the school district for a capital contribution when the original agreement never envisioned that we would have any responsibility for replacement costs,” stated Ray Velestuk, secretary-treasurer for the school district, in a press release.
“We fully support community use of our facilities and will continue to do so where possible, but not at the expense of the operations of our classrooms and schools.
“Ultimately, the expectation for the school district to contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars now and for future replacement costs will significantly impact our school operations. This could affect things like teachers in our classrooms, learning resources and specialized positions or other programs and services that support our students.”
The City of Abbotsford said the school district was unable to offer a full partnership with the field, which was why an agreement was not reached.
Vanderheyden said the city was “disappointed” to learn that the school district ended negotiations “after several meetings and two different joint funding proposals.”
“Fiscal responsibility for our community is a priority for Abbotsford city council. As the primary user for the Abbotsford Senior Secondary field is the school district, the city’s last proposal asked for both groups to equally share in the costs related to operations, maintenance and eventual replacement of the field and equally share in revenue generated through city programs,” she said.
Vanderheyden said the city has been paying most associated operation and maintenance costs for the field, totalling approximately $46,000 annually, $3,000 of which is recovered from an annual school district contribution.
She said the city “remains open” to discussions with the school district about the field at Abby Senior.
Vanderheyden added that a detailed Sports Field Strategy is set for 2023. The strategy will address field requirements now and into the future and include consultation with residents and user groups.
A similar discussion is occurring at Chilliwack’s G.W. Graham, with an enormous turf field coming together with no financial contributions from the school district or city.
That project will see a turf field, lighting and 300 temporary seats installed at the school, and the goal of builders is to fund it entirely through fundraising.