It’s first-and-goal for the Airdrie Field Turf Project Society (AFTPS), as their ambition of establishing the city’s first artificial turf sports field took a major step forward on Nov. 21.
At their meeting this week, Airdrie City council unanimously agreed to provide financial backing and administrative support to get the ball rolling on the long-awaited project.
The project, first spearheaded by the non-profit society in 2019, aims to bring a state-of-the-art artificial turf field to Ed Eggerer Athletic Park. The society intends to convert the existing natural grass surface on the north side of Genesis Place Recreation Centre to artificial field turf.
According to Coun. Candace Kolson, the AFTPS had a “strong base,” when initially fundraising for the turf field in 2019, but lost its positive momentum during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kolson, who brought the notice of motion forward during the Nov. 21 meeting, said by putting off the project, the City would continue to miss out on economic opportunities to showcase the field space and bleachers already in place at Ed Eggerer Park.
“There is widespread support for a field of this nature in Airdrie as the current field at Genesis Place has been deemed by many to be unsafe and not fit for provincial game play,” read Kolson’s notice of motion.
“It seems as though there is a large ship sailing without a captain when it comes to closing the loop on all the work that has been done [on this project] up to this point.”
The results of the Artificial Field Turf Feasibility Study were presented to Council during its July 5, 2021 meeting, when administration was directed to work with the AFTPS to develop a business plan for the initiative.
However, momentum slowed significantly on the project since then, impacted by both the pandemic and the loss of a key supporter and City employee who recently retired, according to Kolson. During the Nov. 21 meeting, she urged City staff and council to take responsibility for the initiative that would “benefit the City as a whole and not just one user group.”
Kolson, also a local football parent, added the project has been a long time coming for Airdrie’s sports community and would be well-utilized by various sports organizations and schools within the Rocky View Schools division.
“It’s a great field and we are very fortunate to have it and it has served its purpose, but now is the time and everybody is united in moving this forward,” she said during the meeting.
The 2021 feasibility study cited an estimated cost of just below $4.4 million for the turf field, including $3.4 million needed for civil works costs and $950,000 in estimated artificial turf installation costs.
According to Coun. Al Jones, who was supportive of the motion, artificial field turf has been needed in the community for more than a decade.
Coun. Ron Chapman agreed, stating council should do whatever it can to see the project through to completion.
“I personally want to thank Mr. Glass for stepping up when he did and doing what he’s done. I think he’s still going to be there going forward,” Chapman said of the society’s founder. “This [project] may have a little bit more teeth in there and we’ll get some traction underneath it, but everything he’s done has been amazing.”
According to Chris Glass, the president of AFTPS and the head coach of George McDougall High School’s football team, artificial turf surfaces are safer to play on than natural grass. Artificial turf would also increase the number of playable hours per year for local football, soccer, rugby and field hockey teams.
The long-time coach said when the society started four years ago (together with his wife, father, and members of the local football community) the mandate of the society was to develop a facility that would be suitable for more than just “football people.”
“We wanted a facility for the City so that includes putting the lines on for soccer, making sure it’s FIFA-certified, making sure [to include] field goals for Rugby Canada,” Glass said during an interview.
He echoed Jones’ and Kolson’s comments that the field would be greatly utilized in the community, adding bigger sporting events “gravitate” toward cities that have artificial turf fields in place.
“Airdrie had started to lose out on marquee football events, primarily due to safety and making sure that we had a field that we can play on a lot more,” he said. “And so, we started to lobby and started to raise money to pay for a feasibility study which kicked this whole thing off.”
He added the society had a “really good plan” moving forward in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic derailed fundraising initiatives that involved social gatherings.
“Events that were very successful pre-COVID, just haven’t been as successful afterwards, so we kind of hit an impasse and we needed the City to step in and try to take the lead on this one,” Glass said. “Our ability to organize our fundraising events came to an end.”
According to Glass, the society’s role is to raise as much money as possible to offset the cost of the field turf’s installation. The group is willing to help facilitate a yearly contribution or lump sum payment towards the capital or maintenance costs for the turf field and are willing to explore corporate sponsorships.
As a result of the Nov. 21 motion, administration will be directed to take the lead on the AFTP, including reaching an agreement with the society that will cease putting the burden of organizing and executing the project.
“The Airdrie football community has said loud and clear they are willing to work with the City as long as what is requested of them is fair and measurable,” Kolson’s notice of motion read.
Kolson urged administration to provide council with clear and frequent updates on scope changes and challenges that have been identified by the society and City staff. She added she hopes to see the project included within the City’s 2023 budget, in preparation for the installation of the field turf in August 2023 or 2024 at the latest.
“I would like to see [the project] come forward at budget deliberations this week,” Kolson said. “It’s obvious those costs can be refined over time. It’s a constant moving target, but I would [like to] have a starting point in the budget.”
Glass would also like to see the field built in time for the 2023 high-school football season, adding he would like to see larger sports organizations come to the venue for their sporting events.
“We’re located so centrally in the province. We’re a really good mid-point for teams up north and south to play each other,” he said in an interview after the meeting. “[Airdrie is] a natural gathering spot and I’d like to see us take advantage of that once we get the turf.”
He added the venue may also host concerts and festivals, following the success of last summer’s Homecoming Festival that was hosted by the City.
“I would like to see that become an annual event where we make the field the centre focus,” he added. “We could do a lot of really cool things that people aren’t thinking of.”
He said he was “elated” to hear the council’s response to the notice of motion.
“All of our members of council see the value to the community of what this project would bring and have all unanimously put their weight behind it,” he said. “I think it’s a tremendous thing for our city and it’s something that we’re going to see the benefits of for years to come.”