Seeds planted for artificial turf soccer pitch

Finally, the soccer complex at Sherman Road is getting a field of artificial turf.

North Cowichan council decided last week to use almost $1-million in gas tax refund money over two years to help fund the much-needed project.

Coun. Jennifer Woike moved that council allocate the additional $416,000 received through the gas tax fund for the year 2014 and a similar gas tax refund for 2015 to construct an artificial turf field for David Williams Field at the Sherman Road soccer park and direct staff to prepare an amendment to the 2014-2018 financial plan accordingly.

Woike also asked that North Cowichan council direct municipal staff to proceed with the phased construction of an artificial turf field at that field as soon as reasonably possible.

Councillors were happy to jump on board and were delighted that new rules have opened up more ways to spend the municipality’s gas tax windfall.

North Cowichan CAO Dave Devana explained that the funds are part of the incremental new money coming from the federal program.

He said that the Cowichan Valley Soccer Association itself would be contributing $300,000, which, along with the $832,000 from the gas fund and $268,000 from North Cowichan’s reverted land fund mean that no property taxes would be allocated to the project.

Cowichan Valley Soccer Association president Bill Keserich noted that his group had been clear from the start that while they wanted a turf pitch, it must not come at the cost of an increase in taxes.

"We’ve been working on this project since 2008, when the North American Indigenous Games were here," he said. "We were given a grant by the NAIG games, which was supposed to be dedicated for when and if there was an artificial turf going in at Sherman Road. And we’ve been quietly working with North Cowichan ever since on this.

"North Cowichan is really visionary as far as their support of sports in the community, going back even before Rex Hollett and Gerry Smith to Dennis Hogan.

"But we wanted the project to be done without a tax increase and that was why we had to come back to our membership to say we need to come up with more funding. That’s how we came up with our commitment of $300,000, which is a pretty sizeable amount for a small club," Keserich said.

"It’s going to allow us to use this field all year, except for snow. Rain will not deter us."

Other association members are also excited at the prospect.

The money won’t come out of registrations for the children, either," said club director Peter de Lange. "It will be separate fund raising. But it’s time to do this. The other areas all have allweather fields. We’re the only ones that don’t."

The soccer season is becoming more and more a 12-month operation because of summer programs, according to Keserich. "We envision seniors using the pitch as well because there are many teams in the Cowichan Valley and they traditionally play in the summer because they like the warmer weather.

Cowichan LMG coach Glen Martin is delighted at the prospect of a local turf field because at present, when the Sherman Road grass pitch is unplayable, the senior men’s team must travel to Ladysmith to use the turf there.

"We lose our crowds when we have to go there," he said. "We get wonderful crowds out on Friday nights here, about 200 people, but that drops to only 50 when we have to go to Ladysmith. The other advantage is that teams can train all the time, too."

Looking out at the young players enjoying a summer soccer program Thursday morning, Woike said that everyone is thrilled about the prospect of a new surface and

they’ve all had one question for her: when is it going to happen? During the North Cowichan discussion, Coun. Ruth Hartmann asked what would be involved in the way of long-term maintenance.

"It would be a fraction of what we spend now, North Cowichan parks and recreation director Ernie Mansueti replied.

Eventually, the "carpet" would have to be replaced but he suggested that rentals of the new field would increase and that those fees could go into a special fund to pay for a replacement rug when needed.

Coun. Al Siebring asked when shovels would go in the ground.

Mansueti said he hoped to get started after the local soccer season is over, going to

tender early in 2015, with a projected commencement date of April 1, 2015, finishing by the fall.

What is involved, he explained, is site preparation, installation of a drainage system and then connecting it to the storm sewer system, installation of a gravel base, concrete paving, curbs, fencing, light bases, sport lighting and landscaping and sports goals.

Then, the artificial turf itself can go in, followed by spectator bleachers.

"The design is ready and we can do it easily in the off-season," he said.

When the vote was finally called, the unanimous result was greeted with applause from the audience in the council chamber.