Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Park breaks ground on synthetic field


For five months of the year, the soccer field at Girsh Park looks like the Chicago Bears did battle on its surface during a torrential rainstorm.
The grass is all but gone, turned into a field of dirt and mud, with ankle-breaking ruts. Landscape officials reseed and nurse the field back to health. And when the grass is finally on the rebound, it doesn’t take long before the eager cleats of thousands of soccer players transform the field into its battered, dusty self.

“They work so hard to get the grass going,” said Goleta Mayor Michael Bennett of the Girsh Park staff. “Then, within two or three weeks, it can turn into a mud bog.”
But those days will soon be gone.
Bennett and other Goleta officials were on hand yesterday to break ground on the park’s new $1.2 million synthetic turf field.
It won’t get tore up. It won’t flood, and more importantly for the park, nearly half of its annual operating budget will no longer be used for grass maintenance.
“It’s one of the most overused fields in Santa Barbara County,” said Ryan Harrington, executive director of The Foundation for Girsh Park. “This field will be the best recreation field open to the public in the county.”
The soccer field is one of the main epicenters for activity in the 25-acre park located at 7050 Phelps Road in Goleta.
Harrington said the field is used by the American Youth Soccer Organization, Santa Barbara Soccer Club, Central Coast Soccer League, Santa Barbara Women’s Soccer Organization and the Girsh Park After School Soccer Program.
On top of that, countless private groups rent the field each year.
When the field at Girsh Park closes each year for re-seeding, the teams flock to other fields, which suffer similarly as a result.
Harrison said the high volume of use at Girsh Park is partly attributed to a lack of public fields in the city of Goleta, as well as a thirst for such fields on the South Coast.
He said a recent study showed South Santa Barbara County is nine full-time soccer fields short of meeting the current need.
When the new field opens sometime at the beginning of next year, Harrison said it will help fill the gap, since it won’t be closed for repairs half the year.
Through decreased maintenance costs (Harrison said the park will save an estimated $50,000 each year), the field will actually end up saving money, which can be used for other park projects.
As it stands, Harrison said up to $250,000 of the park’s $400,000 operating budget is spent on grass rehabilitation.
Beyond the costs of maintenance and the amount of money lost during the five months the park isn’t able to rent the facility, is the condition it’s in when it can be used.
That was the most troubling thing to Pat O’Malley, the chair of the park’s Fields Forever 2 campaign, who is also an AYSO referee.
O’Malley is credited with suggesting the park install a synthetic turf field.
He said he first discovered the fields and their durability while visiting family in the Portland, Ore. area.
O’Malley scheduled a visit with the Portland State University soccer coach, who raved about the fields, saying the turf drained so quickly, his team could practice 10 minutes after several inches of rain left standing water on the field.
“I said, ‘hey this is the way to go,’” O’Malley said.
Over the past year-and-a-half, the park’s foundation has managed to raise nearly all of the $1.2 million in construction costs, but is about $100,000 short.
The city of Goleta, which currently does not have a parks and recreation department, pitched in a significant amount to make the field a reality, as did the Girsh, Hochman families, the field’s namesakes.
Goleta Mayor Pro Tempore Roger Aceves, who has long been an advocate for recreational opportunities in the young city, said he believes the new field is a big step in the right direction.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “This is a red-ribbon day to have this going for Goleta.”
Aceves said a full-blown recreational program supported by the city might be a long way off, but in the meantime the city is dedicated to developing partnerships like the one it has with Girsh Park.
Harrison said the current fees to rent the park for adult leagues would increase from $30 to $60.
More information about the park and how to contribute to the campaign is available at www.girshpark.org.

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