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Lorton Dreams of Fields

A planned sports facility in Lorton could include 130,000-square-foot field house, more than a dozen athletic fields.

Another public-private partnership may soon help change the way children play in the southern part of Fairfax County.

The Fairfax County Park Authority is “making good progress” toward reaching an agreement that will make the Lorton Sportsplex a reality, said project manager Bob Betsold.

“The facility will be located at the former youth center site, which is just south of the landfill and adjacent to Landfill Road,” said Betsold. “We’re also looking to put baseball fields in an area we call the Heritage Recreation area, which is next to the former Nike Missile site and the Laurel Hill Golf Club.”

When an agreement is reached between the county and the Laurel Hill Sports Foundation, work may begin on the project, which will include a 130,000-square-foot field house, Betsold said. “This would be larger than most facilities of its kind and most don’t have fields around them like this one will,” he said.

Many of the details of the deal are “still confidential,” he said, because final details are still being negotiated.

AS PRESIDENT of the Laurel Hill Sports Foundation, John Breheny said conversations began about the possibility of the sports facility in October 2002.

“We first started talking about maybe having some rectangular fields and a field house on the prison site back then, but I didn’t think the meeting went well,” Breheny said “Essentially, we were told the county wanted the fields, but this whole thing has to happen on their time table.”

When all is said and done, the Lorton Sportsplex “may be one of the largest of its kind in the country,” Breheny said. “The Park Authority accept the proposal last May, which was for a 130,000-square-foot field house with a 200-meter indoor track and nine artificial turf fields on the former youth facility site.”

Phase one of the project would include razing the buildings that currently exist on the site, building the field house and the fields, Breheny said. Phase two of the project would move to the Heritage Recreation site, where two baseball diamonds would be built with about 50 yards between home plates and a pentagon-shaped concession stand in the middle, he said.

Nearly three-quarters of the fields built in connection with the sportsplex will be rectangular fields to be used for soccer or lacrosse, Breheny said, based on a shortage of fields noted in a needs assessment study conducted by the Park Authority in 2003.

“There are 60,000 or 70,000 kids in Fairfax County that play soccer, and there’s currently a deficit of about 110 fields to meet that demand,” he said. “The numbers are just breathtaking. Kids are currently playing soccer on overused fields or vacant lots behind elementary schools.”

Breheny said he expects an agreement to be reached within the next few months, which would allow for work to begin on the sportsplex later this year. “If it took three months for permitting, we could begin work in the third or fourth quarter of 2006. Our contractors have guaranteed a 22-month build cycle, but a lot depends on how much fill we can get on the site as soon as possible” to begin construction, Breheny said.

IT'S UNCERTAIN how much the sportsplex could cost to build, said Kirk Holley, manager of special projects branch of the Fairfax County Park Authority.

The Park Authority is in the process of reviewing the proposal submitted by the Laurel Hill Sports Foundation, "considering whether to review and further negotiate it or not do it at all," Holley said. "There is a place on the conceptual redevelopment plan that calls for an athletic field complex and there's a location set aside for it on this project. It's just a matter of whether it's the right fit."

A decision should be made later this year, Holley said, but it is unclear whether that decision could be made in one month or six months.

"The success of this proposal is how well if fits in with the needs of the community and the Park Authority's planning," Holley said. "Certainly there is a location for a sports field complex and there's an overwhelming need for athletic fields. We're considering this proposal because it would fill that need. If we can make it work, we absolutely will."

If the facility is approved, it would "certainly be a positive addition to that part of the Mount Vernon district," said Supervisor Gerry Hyland (D-Mount Vernon).

Residents in the area felt it was "a plus for the community" to consider locating the facility there, he said, provided the infrastructure there could support the addition of "hundreds and hundreds" of vehicles and people that may enter and exit during athletic events.

"There is a tremendous shortage of athletic fields in the county," Hyland said, and the addition of fields at the sportsplex could help reduce the strain on existing fields.

"If the public sector wants to be involved in creating more fields, that means less bond money dedicated to that end. I think that's a good thing," he said.

The sportsplex is yet another project on the 2,700-acre site that used to be dominated by the former Lorton Prison. Combined with the Lorton Art Foundation’s plans for the Workhouse and Penitentiary, an equestrian center and the planned Cold War Museum, an estimated total of $250 million worth of amenities have been planned for the site, Breheny said.

“The opportunity the county has in front of it is almost without precedent,” he said. “This place of suffering and pain has become a phenomenal place to live … if you look three to five years down the road, what a spectacular place this is going to be.”