City council hears support for new outdoor sports complex

Whitehorse's soccer and track-and-field facilities are in a state of disrepair and it's preventing local youth from developing into better athletes.

Whitehorse’s soccer and track-and-field facilities are in a state of disrepair and it’s preventing local youth from developing into better athletes. That was the message nine residents delivered to city council on Monday evening, as they spoke about the benefits of having a dedicated outdoor sports complex in the Whistle Bend subdivision.

The $7-million project, which would feature three soccer fields and a rubberized track, would be built by the Yukon government and leased to the Yukon Outdoor Sports Complex Association.

But first, city council has to approve the amendment that would rezone the 7.17 hectares of land from residential to parks and recreation.

It was standing-room only at the city council chambers, with almost 40 supporters showing up for the public hearing. Many were young soccer players wearing their team jerseys.

Whitehorse Minor Soccer President Grant Zazula said over the last eight years, he’s seen an incredible potential for kids to develop as soccer players. But that will be going to waste if the fields aren’t up to par, he added.

“It’s become clear the state of our outdoor fields is embarrassingly awful,” he said.

“The fields are covered in dog feces, gopher holes and kids are tripping on sprinkler heads. By having a dedicated outdoor complex we could prevent people from riding their ATVs or bringing their dogs onto the fields.”

Zazula said the minor soccer association represents about 900 young players.

Don White, a track-and-field coach in the territory since 1987, said the Department of Education has built three tracks in the past 25 years – none of them regulation size.

That’s preventing him from developing programs and preparing athletes for larger events such as the Western Canada Summer Games, he said.

“Kids don’t have the opportunity to practise in a facility they’ll be competing in,” he said.

Deputy Mayor Mike Gladish asked White whether he thought it was a good idea for the Yukon government to invest in a facility that “might only accommodate a few youth over the next 20 years.”

“Yes,” White replied, “because if you look at the cross-country ski club, its membership has grown steadily over the years.”

Last year, Athletics Yukon had a membership of 205, with 51 of them under 20, White said. The year before, it was considerably less.

“It’s like that Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams,” White said. “If you build it, they will come.”

Gladish also expressed concerns over the condition of the rubberized track in the Yukon winter. But White said cities such as Fairbanks and Anchorage in Alaska, and Fort Smith in the Northwest Territories, have tracks that aren’t affected by the weather.

Last month, city council expressed a number of concerns about the project.

Mayor Dan Curtis said he felt it was moving along too quickly, and wondered whether the city would be left on the hook for operations and maintenance costs in the future.

City council also expressed doubts about whether $50,000 would be enough to cover those costs annually, a figure that was mentioned in an earlier design proposal.

Tony Gaw, who heads the Yukon Outdoor Sports Complex Association, said turf fields and a rubberized track require very little maintenance.

He said a sports architect told him the fields would only require four hours of maintenance per week.

“In the first phase there’s little to no maintenance,” he said.

The second phase of development would feature a change room facility, an office building and amenities for other user groups, potentially Tennis Yukon and the Special Olympics.

Gaw said the non-profit association would raise funds through a user pay model, sponsorships, advertising and business partnerships.

Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu asked Gaw whether he knew what those user fees would be, and if they would increase over time as the facility expands. Gaw said user fees hadn’t been set in stone, but a flat rate of $75 per hour had been considered.

“If we were to supply land to Tennis Yukon they’d be on the hook for their own operations and maintenance,” Gaw said.

The territorial government has maintained it would look at covering any shortfalls in operations and maintenance costs.

Council also received 39 written submissions about the outdoor sports complex, 37 of them in favour of the project.

A public hearing report will be presented to council on April 7.

Second and third reading of the zoning amendment bylaw will be held on April 13.

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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