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Council consensus: $3.6M astroturf for 3 soccer fields

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Burlington’s elected leaders have decided to go for a hat trick, of sorts, as the city prepares to introduce artificial ground cover to the athletic fields at one of its more popular municipal parks.

Rather than start cautiously with one or two fields, the council reached a consensus on Tuesday to plant Astroturf on three of the youth soccer fields at Burlington’s Springwood Park – notwithstanding the $3.6 million price tag that this option is expected to run.

The council ultimately instructed city staff members to solicit bids for all three of these fields based on a report that Rachel Kelly, the city’s assistant city manager for administrative services, shared during the council’s latest regularly-scheduled meeting.

“The staff is recommending three fields for a variety of reasons,” Kelly told the city’s decision-makers on Tuesday evening: “the increased availability of field use; making this a destination for tournaments – we’ve been told that three fields is a game changer for being able to host tournaments – putting us on par with neighboring communities as far as the offering of artificial turf, increased revenue potential, and decreased maintenance burden.”

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In her advice to the council, Kelly largely took her cues from Dan Dodd of FitFields, who has served as the city’s expert consultant on this particular project.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Dodd assured the council that the installation of synthetic grass would greatly improve the durability of these fields as well as their value for youth soccer and other athletics. Dodd added that the city could maximize these benefits by upgrading all three of the fields under consideration.

“The three-field complex is really the most economical in terms of construction,” he asserted. “But it’s not as simple as putting fields on top of grass. There’s excavation, there’s drainage, and we design the grades to be minimal.”

Dodd assured the council that the city would get plenty of use out of this high-quality ground cover, which he said typically comes an eight-year warranty from the manufacturer. He added that, in all likelihood, the city will have 10 years to enjoy the fields before it has to renew the process of replacing this turf.

The consultant went on to concede that the city can expect to spend something in the neighborhood of $3.6 million to have all three of the fields covered in synthetic grass. He added that the anticipated cost of this project would drop to about $2.6 million if the city only upgrades two of the fields or roughly $1.5 million if it settles for one.

Dodd nevertheless argued that the three-field alternative would be a much better value in a dollar-for-dollar comparison. He also predicted that three fields would attract more prospective bidders than just one or two, which some contractors may deem a waste of their time.

In either case, Dodd urged the council to settle on one of the three proposed options so that city staff members can begin soliciting bids and have a proposed contract ready to present the council by mid May. Kelly told the council that a budget amendment would also be in order to make sure the work can begin before the new fiscal year starts in July. Meanwhile, Dodd said that, if everything goes according to plan, the work should wrap up by October 1.

As he contemplated Dodd’s recommendation, Burlington’s mayor Jim Butler recalled that he and his colleagues had originally discussed returfing just two fields nearly a year ago – at a total cost of about $2 million. He added, however, that the three-field option may ultimately be a more prudent approach.

“When looking at the entire scope of the project, and some of the residual benefits from it, it seems that it should be all three fields,” Butler insisted amid vigorous assents from most of his colleagues.

The only council member to raise any misgivings about the three-field recommendation was Kathy Hykes, who balked at the potential impact that this proposal would have on the city’s pocketbook.

“I’m struggling with the cost of this,” she said. “I don’t know where the money is coming from. It seems to me think that doing one [field] might be a good idea. But I don’t know that committing to $4 million is the right thing for us to be doing right now.”

In response to Hykes’ objections, Harold Owen, Burlington’s mayor pro tem, declared that the three-field option would create a space for youth athletics that would benefit local schools in addition to the city’s own recreation department. Meanwhile, Butler insisted that the city should be prepared to do this project the right way if it intends to move ahead with it at all.

“It would be devastating to spend money but not finish it,” he said.

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