In a forecasted tight budget year, consultants to the City's Park, Recreation & Cultural Affairs Department charged with developing a "Proposed Athletic Field Master Plan" estimated that it would cost $20 million to make the City's existing fields "very useable."
That was the answer given by PROS Consultants during a Park and Recreation Commission public hearing Oct. 26 at Nannie J. Lee Center on the "Comprehensive Athletic Fields Master Plan — Draft- Final Report" which analyzed the City's athletic fields inventory — their numbers, their use, their maintenance, and their longevity.
"When I ran for Council I was appalled at the conditions of many of our athletic fields. But, we need more fields like we need a hole in the head. We have to make what we have more usable. How much would it cost to do that?" asked Pat Troy, local businessman and former Republican candidate for City Council.
"If you had $20 million you could make everything very usable," Leon Unger, one of the consultants making the presentation responded. His estimate was not challenged by either department or the commission.
Overall the consultants, retained by the City to look at the present and long range adequacy of the athletic field status, laid out a grim appraisal. "Establishing a renewal/replacement program will require a constant investment. It's very important for people to understand what this will cost," the consultants cautioned the 30 plus citizens in attendance.
"The City of Alexandria's athletic fields are among the most used park and recreation facilities in the region and currently unable to meet the demand for a variety of field sports. Currently, the City hosts more than 15,000 youth, adult, school participants on 48 athletic field," PROS consulting stated in its opening sentence to their 62 page report.
They were retained by the RP&CA Department "to evaluate the City's athletic fields and develop an Athletic Field Master Plan" to "help set priorities on how to improve existing athletic field sites as well as identifying the need for additional capacity to support the needs of the residents."
THEY ACCOMPLISHED THIS by breaking the project into three tasks: 1. Analyzing the existing situation; 2. Developing alternative possibilities; and 3. Creating a 10 year Athletic Field Master Plan Development.
Their findings included the following:
* Present athletic fields are over scheduled and struggle to provide the current level of use.
* The average team plays between 10 and 24 games in field sports per year.
* The City has a total of 48 base athletic fields that include 17 engineered fields and 32 non-engineered fields.
* Many of the fields are in poor or very poor condition and lack reasonable amenities to support the type of play occurring on the fields.
* More than one half (27) of the fields are located at schools or are used by schools for daily physical education, sports programs or summer day camps.
* More than half (52 percent) of the base fields are multi-use fields.
IN MAKING THEIR ANALYSIS, the consultants broke the year into two athletic seasons: Season one: Spring/Summer; Season two: Fall/Winter. The Spring/Summer field capacity is short by an estimated 1100 events or 13 fields, according to PROS Consulting. Fall/Winter is at 100 percent capacity but functioning, they said.
They suggested a two-phased 10-year program to bring the City's athletic field needs up to par. "The first five years would focus on high priority needs. The second five would focus on medium and low priority needs," they said.
"It's going to be very important for the School District to buy into this plan," they emphasized. Their report noted, "The construction at T.C. Williams High School has eliminated four fields from use and has put additional stress on the system." This is exacerbated by the temporary loss of two other fields at Potomac Yard, they noted.
In the final analysis the consultants opted for more so-called "engineered field" than natural fields. "The vast majority of City fields have surpassed their design limits for the current level of use. Recently developed engineered fields, such as Ben Brenman and Boothe, are examples of engineered fields that are holding up much better than most in the City inventory," they wrote in their report.
"One of the things we need to stress is that we have capped adult sports on our fields over the last several years. Our citizens are now going to other jurisdictions to play sports," said Kirk Kincannon, director, RP&CA.
Judy Guse-Noritake, chair, Parks & Recreation Commission, stated, "We have to look at reconfiguring our large parks to get better use." Another suggestion put forth was the possibility of creating multi-level facilities.
Maintenance of existing athletic fields is a significant City expenditure. When asked at a recent Woodrow Wilson Bridge Neighborhood Task Force Meeting what it would cost to maintain two proposed engineered fields north of bridge, Alexandria Mayor William Euille, who co-chairs the Task Force, estimated approximately $500,000 annually.
Both the consultants' presentation and ensuing discussion at the Commission hearing took place close on the heels of a warning to City Council by Assistant City Manager for Fiscal and Financial Affairs Mark Jinks that, "This is going to be a very challenging budget. We're going to have some tough choices to make."
His projected increase in revenue for the coming fiscal year is 3 percent. In recent years the City has enjoyed a 10 percent growth in revenue flow due to escalating property values. That has now changes with the slow down in the real estate market.