After bids for a project to install new turf and lights on the south field at Island Crest Park came in much higher than expected, the Mercer Island City Council voted unanimously on April 17 to reallocate those funds to the north field, which sports groups called a “win-win solution.”
Mercer Island baseball players and boosters, along with representatives from the Boys and Girls Club and soccer and football communities, attended the meeting to support the decision, and urged that the project be completed before next spring.
Jack Smith, a senior at Mercer Island High School and baseball team captain, said that the team hasn’t been able to play at home this year because of the field condition, and that he doesn’t want next year’s seniors to experience that again. The MIHS baseball team is currently in first place in KingCo, and ranked No. 1 in the state. They won the first state championship in school history in 2015.
“Turfing the north outfield will fix the drainage problems once and for all and ensure that MIHS baseball teams have a playable field,” said Steve Poore, president-elect of the booster club. “We are also pleased that this improvement will provide a great place for organized soccer and football to play in the fall [and] winter.”
Scott Barbara, the president of local soccer club Mercer Island FC, told the council that renovating the north field is a good first step, though the ultimate goal should be to turf the entire park, as there is an “unacceptable” shortage of turfed, lighted fields on the Island.
Island Crest Park is used for many sports activities, including baseball, soccer, football and even ultimate frisbee, said Parks and Recreation Director Bruce Fletcher. However, the drainage issues at the north field have caused problems, especially with this winter’s heavy rainfall.
The Island Crest Park project has been under consideration in the city’s Parks Master Plan and Capital Improvement Plan for more than seven years. The city is “hoping to start solving this problem, even if it’s piecemeal,” Fletcher said.
“This is not a new crisis. This has been going on year after year,” said baseball booster Brooke Hamilton. “We have the traditional opening of baseball season followed by the traditional closing of ICP.”
This is the second year in a row that ICP north outfield has been unplayable, according to the Baseball Booster Club. All MIHS home games this season will likely be cancelled, postponed or moved off Island.
“This year, we have the number one ranked baseball team in the state, which is epic for Mercer Island, and yet we will have zero home games,” said Kurt Dammeier, local businessperson and longtime baseball community activist. “The field is a mess, and whatever has to be done to change this for subsequent years must be done.”
The project budget was set at about $2.2 million, partially funded by a $500,000 Recreation and Conservation Office grant and $150,000 in community contributions, though the lowest bid offered was $2.8 million. The grant will likely transfer to the north field project, said Parks Operations Superintendent Paul West.
The council decided to reject all bids for the south field project and go forward with a design for the north outfield project, which will be submitted to the King County Directors’ Association, a purchasing co-op. The Mercer Island School District is utilizing this co-op to purchase replacement turf for the high school stadium this year.
A few decisions remain, including which types of lights and infill to use. Some councilmembers supported the commonly-used crumb rubber infill, though community members have raised safety concerns, and prefer the more expensive organic infills, such as cork or sand. City staff pointed out that there is currently is no scientific evidence that crumb rubber infill causes health problems such as cancer, that maintenance for the other infill materials is more difficult and that they are more prone to problems like mold and weeds.
Turfing the north field with crumb rubber would cost about $1.4 million, and $1.7 million with alternate infill.
Correction: Scott Barbara’s name was misspelled in a previous version of this story.