Artificial city

Consultant finds Owen Sound area can support artificial field and dome

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A consultant hired to review an artificial turf pitch and dome identified Victoria Park as a preferred site, with the cost of such an installation expected to be between $2.2 and $2.6 million.

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Michael Cleland of RC Strategies and Owen Sound Community Services Manager Pam Coulter presented a report to the city’s Community Services Committee March 16 on the feasibility of a grass pitch and pitch dome 1/3 in the city. The committee approved a staff recommendation to work with partners and stakeholders on steps to move the proposal forward in a “measured and careful” manner. The recommendation still needs to be approved by the city council.

In his report, Cleland said he believed there was sufficient demand in the city and surrounding areas to sustain the facility and ensure its financial viability.

Cleland said the required population base for an artificial turf and dome facility is around 65,000, which exists within 30 minutes of the city.

“Installation should rely on a regional population of users, so I want to make that very clear,” Cleland said. “Owen Sound’s population is probably too small for an artificial field to be financially viable.”

Last year, the City of Owen Sound and Owen Sound Minor Soccer both agreed to contribute $10,000 to the RC Strategies study. A grass pitch and dome has been an idea that has been mooted in the past, but has gained renewed interest in recent times when the lack of such a facility has sidelined indoor football and other sports for the COVID-19 pandemic, while on-field conditions prevent power teams from using the outdoor courts until the end of May.

The desire for an artificial turf facility was a key theme in the city’s leisure parks and master plan completed in 2018.

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Cleland said that in addition to minor football – likely to be a “main” and “significant” user of the facility – other potential users could be on-field lacrosse, ball organisations, which would use for training, and adult field organizations. A floor could also be laid over the artificial turf for activities such as pickle ball.

Cleland said it assessed two sites for the facility – Victoria Park and the Kiwanis Soccer Complex.

He said they had identified Victoria Park as the preferred site because of its “natural synergy” with nearby St. Mary’s High School and its central location in the area “for community use in the evenings and weekend”. The city currently has an agreement with the Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board for the school to use Victoria Park.

Cleland recommended a full artificial pitch, with a dome covering 1/3 of the pitch – about the size of a full-size ice hockey surface – that would be set up in late fall and taken down at the end of the spring.

Cleland said a full dome was not suggested because there was not enough demand to fill it to offset winter operating costs.

The capital cost of the turf field has been estimated to range from $1.2 million for a full-size soccer field to approximately $1.5 million for a full-size football/soccer field. The 1/3 dome is estimated at just over $1 million.

Committee members were concerned about the impact such a facility might have on other events at Victoria Park, such as the Owen Sound Fall Fair or a gathering of monster trucks.

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Coulter said Owen Sound has an agreement with the Owen Sound Agricultural Society to which the council remains committed. Under the current agreement, activities are not supposed to take place on the sports field, she added.

“We really want to respect that relationship and those uses would co-exist,” she said.

Cleland said artificial turf fields are usually fenced off. A geotechnical study would be required to determine the suitability of the site.

Com. Travis Dodd, chairman of the committee, expressed some concerns about the city’s operation of such a facility.

Coulter said the city told potential partners the facility did not have to be run by the city. Both Cleland and Coulter recommended that potential stakeholders take a field trip to see how other artificial turf and dome installations are operated.

Coulter said the recommendations made to the committee represent a “measured and cautious approach to getting things done.”

Steps include structuring a memorandum of understanding between the city, minor football and other parties on site development, visiting comparable sites, further investigating site conditions, revalidating requirements potential users, seeking infrastructure and capital grants to help with construction, and remaining open to other potential sites.

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