Repairing city fields too costly: government

Whitehorse has no dedicated soccer fields because they're too costly to maintain, according to a spokesperson for the Department of Highways and Public Works.

Whitehorse has no dedicated soccer fields because they’re too costly to maintain, according to a spokesperson for the Department of Highways and Public Works.

This explanation may seem a little odd, given the Yukon government’s willingness to splurge on a new $7 million outdoor sports complex for the city. The project has been justified, in part, by the poor condition of existing fields.

As it stands, local soccer players have been playing on what the department calls “multi-sport fields,” said Doris Wurfbaum.

“A dedicated soccer field uses more resources because it’s held to a higher standard than a multi-sport field,” she said.

“Soccer fields need to be cut more often, fertilized more often and top-dressed more often.”

Tenders were recently issued for the annual maintenance of 16 multi-sport fields in the city.

That includes picking up litter, power raking, removing dead grass, aerating, watering, weeding and edging.

Work is anticipated to begin at the end of May, Wurfbaum said, to allow the grounds to thaw properly.

And for the past three years, at the end of every summer, the Department of Education allocates $25,000 towards repairs to the most damaged fields, she added.

But that’s not nearly enough to make the fields adequate for soccer, according to Whitehorse Minor Soccer Association President Grant Zazula.

“From what I know … only about eight of the fields are actually usable for soccer,” he wrote in an email.

“To actually repair the fields properly – deal with gopher holes, pot holes, the huge bare patches that have been worn down – would be impossible with the allocated funds. The soccer and other user organizations try to rotate the fields so that some of them are allowed to sit and ‘heal’ for a year, but that doesn’t do anything to fix them.”

The holes, along with sprinkler heads, have caused serious injuries to players of all ages over the years, he added.

He knows adults who have blown their knees out and torn ankle ligaments by playing on “hazardous field conditions.”

Artificial turf is crucial because it requires little maintenance and doesn’t get torn up in the spring season, when it’s most at risk of damage, he said.

Last week, council members voted against a zoning amendment bylaw that would have given the Yukon government permission to build two artificial turf fields, a rubberized track and bleachers on a four-hectare parcel of land in Whistle Bend.

Members of the soccer association have argued in the past that players who travel south for tournaments aren’t prepared to play on turf fields.

They also say the current state of the fields is preventing youth from developing into better soccer players.

Based on information submitted by the city’s department of recreation, the poor condition of fields has been a regular issue at annual user group meetings.

In 2013, the property management division of Highways and Public Works asked user groups to identify one major issue that needs addressing.

The groups said it was general overuse of the fields, resulting in large bare spots.

A year later the groups said gopher holes, tunnels and irrigation were also problems.

A suggestion was made to identify four “premium” fields and to focus the efforts to maintain them. But last year, the property management division noted there were too many fields and “too few maintenance dollars.”

Zazula said that in the end, it’s a losing battle.

“If the problem fields were to be repaired properly, they would need to sit basically all of the spring and most of the summer, taking them out of commission for a year,” he wrote.

“And, with so many soccer players and teams, and so few usable fields, this would effectively make the season impossible for many Whitehorse minor soccer teams.”

Contact Myles Dolphin at myles@yukon-news.com