Dreaming of new field turf

Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter This new artificial turf surface at the South Mercer Playfields could be the first of many. -
Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter This new artificial turf surface at the South Mercer Playfields could be the first of many.
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Mercer Island has the highest ratio of ballfields per resident than any other community in King County and the greater Seattle area. However, improvements for many are well past due, giving the Island a shortage of playable fields.

In a study released last fall by the Beckwith Consulting Firm, a local urban planning company, it was announced that the Island contains the most soccer/lacrosse/football fields per 1,000 residents when compared with other cities in the state. The Island also boasts the fourth most baseball/softball fields per resident.

The mean range of the ratio for communities throughout the state for soccer fields is from .24 to .38, according to the study. The Island’s ration was .46.

According to the data, the Island was also fourth in the ratio of baseball fields. Only Gig Harbor has more baseball and softball fields per resident than the Island on this side of the Cascades. Ellensburg and Moses Lake had the top two state baseball field ratios.

The study concluded that there is an adequate supply of fields on the Island; however, it also suggested that several upgrades at the Island’s existing fields take place in order to get maximum use.

“The major findings we have out of this study are that we have the highest ratio of fields per 1,000 residents,” said Parks and Recreation director Mark Mayer before the Council last fall. “There are enough total fields in city parks and at other agencies to satisfy the community’s requirements.”

However, the Island’s sport clubs all have trouble finding adequate field space. Brian Emanuels, the president of Mercer Island Little League, said the conditions of many ballfields make them unusable for baseball for much of the season.

“We are still way, way behind,” Emanuels said. “We are still not there given the growth of girls’ participation in sports. The issue is the quality of the fields and their playability. Most of the season, the fields are not in playable conditions.”

Mayer echoed the problem with the Island’s ballfield conditions when he told the City Council of the mixed news regarding the Island’s ballfields. He recommended the Council develop a long-term strategy for the needed field improvements. Many will likely be a part of the upcoming parks levy, which the city plans to ask voters to approve later this year.

There are currently 21 public ballfields operated by the city on Mercer Island. Most are concentrated near or around Island schools. Today, most remain natural grass and dirt fields, but many have drainage problems or require significant time for restoration, according to the study.

Many other communities have replaced old fields with artificial surfaces in recent years. Emanuels said Island youth have played on these artificial surfaces and they make a difference, whether or not a baseball or softball game takes place.

“Most recently, [Island players] went to a tournament in Everett last Memorial Day, and they said it was fantastic,” Emanuels said. “Most other local tournaments at that same time got rained out because the fields were a mud bowl.”

Emanuels also said that Mercer Island is one of the few schools in KingCo without artificial turf for baseball or softball. A dirt surface field at the South Mercer Playfields was recently replaced with artificial turf, and the only other artificial turf field is Islander Stadium.

The study recommended upgrading existing fields at Island Park, Lakeridge and West Mercer elementary schools with artificial surfaces. It also suggested installing artificial turf at South Mercer’s multi-use fields and the north field at Island Crest Park.

The costs for the upgrades range from $800,000 to $2.6 million, depending on the amount of artificial turf resurfacing that the city ultimately chooses. Improvement costs would be taken from the parks levy.

A meeting of Island ballfield groups and park users took place Thursday night at the community center to discuss the anticipated parks levy. It was the second meeting, and many more will take place weekly for the next couple of months. (See story on page 6.)

In addition to upgrading the current fields, the city also plans to improve its scheduling system to maximize field use. A block method will be instituted so that clubs may schedule their own practices and games in a given time slot.

The city also plans to hold organizations accountable with a monetary penalty for last-minute cancellations or failing to use the reserved field. Emanuels said that would be welcomed by his club.

“There needs to be an incentive for leagues to reserve only what they need and give back what they don’t,” Emanuels said. “Right now, all the leagues do a land grab even if they do not need it all, but there’s no incentive to give it back.”

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