A plan between the city and the Abbotsford school district to build three new turf fields near Matsqui Recreation Centre (MRC) is creating excitement among those who run community soccer programs.
Council approved a $6.8-million plan to work with the Abbotsford school district to build one synthetic field on city land behind MRC and two on school district land at Colleen and Gordie Howe middle school and W.J. Mouat secondary school. There is currently one synthetic field in the area, along with another turf field at Abbotsford senior secondary school.
Because of the shortage of fields for the amount of players in Abbotsford, existing natural fields with lights in the city are being used well beyond the recommended 20 hours per week – leading to poor conditions and occasionally closures.
James Arden, director of park services, said the fields are being overused by more than double and “are taking a hit.”
The synthetic fields will replace two grass fields and two all-weather gravel fields, which are currently under-utilized.
“People just don’t like playing on gravel,” said school district director of facilities Tom Louis of the all-weather fields.
The plan, which includes $1 million for a fieldhouse and $200,000 to relocate a skate park, will be funded by development cost charges paid to the city.
When complete, the city believes the Mouat and existing Abbotsford Exhibition Park fields will become a “tournament hub” and ease transportation and logistic issues when the city hosts the BC Summer Games in 2016.
Soccer is the primary use of the fields, with the city boasting 4,763 players on 347 teams in 2012.
The president of the Abbotsford Magnuson Ford Soccer Club, which boasts more than half of those players, said the new fields are badly needed.
“We’ve outgrown the fields,” John Werrell told The News. “It’s great to hear something like this might happen in the near future.”
The Lower Mainland is blessed with weather that can permit soccer to be played year-round. But the change in season brings new challenges: early sunsets force clubs onto fields with lights, and steady rain throughout the winter makes those fields prone to damage from overuse.
The club’s general manager, Dan Village, expressed hope that four turf fields in the same general area would allow the organization to set up a base at Mouat for youth programs.
“We could put programs in one spot and leave them in one spot.”
Even organizations that don’t regularly play on turf say more synthetic fields could have a positive trickle -down effect.
When field closures force the 16-team Abbotsford Men’s Soccer League to cancel games, field co-ordinator Matt Robinson said it’s often impossible to book make-up times on the city’s present turf fields.
Robinson hopes that could change with more availability. It’s also hoped that the turf will ease the wear and tear inflicted on the grass fields the league normally plays on.
Mat Macri, president of the Abbotsford Falcons community football program, also said it’s currently difficult to get time on the turf fields. The Falcons practise on grass fields at Abbotsford traditional middle school and Rotary Stadium, as the existing turf fields are configured for high school football programs, who play by different rules.
Macri said the program could benefit from practice times on turf, although he said time allocation issues may still present challenges.
One synthetic turf field is equivalent to about three grass and sand-based fields because they can be used all day, in poor weather conditions and there is no need for long maintenance closures or shutdowns.