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Still Hope for Sportsplex

Negotiations, research still ongoing for sportsplex in Lorton.

Once it became official that the Lorton prison was closing, ideas started to pour forth on how to transform the nearly 3,000 acre site into something useful and beneficial to the community.

One idea that has been batted around but not quite able to gain strength is the Laurel Hill Sportsplex, a proposed collection of rectangular and diamond fields that would help abate the shortage of sports fields in Fairfax County, along with accommodating the growing population in that part of the county.

Kirk Holley, a member of the Fairfax County Park Authority's Planning Division, said a request for proposals on the sportsplex went out a few years ago, but the submissions did not quite fit what the Park Authority had in mind.

"We discussed elements of one proposal and had consultants work from that to do some research on whether there was a need for this type of facility in this area," Holley said.

Based on a needs assessment study the Park Authority commissioned a few years ago, it was determined the county is lacking 95 rectangular fields. Despite adding a few artificial turf fields and creating some new fields in recent years, the county is still in need of more recreational space. Building the sportsplex, Holley said, would help meet those needs.

"Over the summer, we hired a consultant to determine the feasibility of this concept and to lay out a sequence of steps that would make it possible, both financially and as a recreation improvement," he said.

Even if a plan were approved tomorrow, the Park Authority does not have the money to build a sportsplex anytime soon, so any work approved or done now would only be preparation for a future deal.

Holley said two sites have been identified as possible locations for the sportsplex, including a site near the proposed Cold War Museum on Furnace Road and the former juvenile detention facility.

REPRESENTATIVES OF Brailsford and Dunlavey, a consulting firm in Washington, D.C., met with the Park Authority Board on Thursday, Nov. 15 to discuss their research to date.

"The difficult thing is, it's all in a research and analysis stage right now," said Jennifer Zirkle, a project analyst from Brailsford and Dunlavey. "We haven't determined the number of fields or the type of facility that should be built."

Zirkle said her firm will be returning to the Park Authority Board next month and again in January to present their findings and in preparation for their final approval in February.

All their research and planning, including 50 interviews of Lorton residents and community leaders, have not touched upon what type of clubhouse or indoor facilities may be available, she said.

"Within the next month, we should have more detailed, specific information to present to the Park Authority Board," she said.

One thing is certain: if the sportsplex is built, people will use it.

"In some cases, Fairfax County has more users than the national average in some sports," she said. "We really believe there's a lot of support for this."

If the plans are approved by the Park Authority Board in February, it would then go on to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for further consideration, Zirkle said.

Although the sportsplex may not have been specifically outlined in the original plan for the renovation of Lorton, it certainly does fall in line with the hopes for improving the area, said Tim Sargeant.

A former member of the Laurel Hill Adaptive Reuse Advisory Committee and now the Planning Commissioner for the Mount Vernon District, Sargeant has been involved in guiding the change from prison to parks and other uses for years.

"Talk of the sportsplex came into play later, once the Park Authority took possession of the land," he said. "I think the initial focus was on a variety of uses to maximize the recreation and open spaces available, and this concept meets that need."

Sargeant agreed with Holley that a public-private partnership agreement may be the best way to fund construction of a sportsplex once a plan in approved.

"You can see there's a need for this type of place, not only as that community continues to grow, but also for the region," he said.

Additional fields may make the park a destination for any number of tournaments for a variety of sports, Holley said, meeting a need the Park Authority has heard from many residents and athletes.

"People here want that kind of facility, they expect it and they're willing to pay for it," Holley said.