Fields of dreams might be down to one at Topaz

Victoria should reconsider building two new artificial playing fields at Topaz Park and instead plan to build one field there and help build a new artificial field at Victoria High School, city staff say.

It’s an idea that has some merit, says Mayor Lisa Helps, but it doesn’t sit well with Coun. Ben Isitt, council liaison for the Hillside/Quadra neighbourhood that encompasses Topaz Park.

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“There’s just other higher priorities for finite parks capital expenditures,” Isitt said.

Replacing the aging artificial sports field at Topaz with two new fields costing between $4 million and $5 million is part of the long-term master plan for the park. The city budgeted about $430,000 to do design work this year.

But in a report going to councillors today, city staff note that in 2014, the city committed to match funds raised by the Victoria High Alumni Association (up to $250,000) toward building a new artificial sports field there.

The alumni association has raised $300,000 toward a new sports field and lighting that is anticipated to cost between $2 million and $3 million, staff say.

So instead of spending $430,000 approved for this year to design the two new fields at Topaz, staff are recommending that only one field be designed, leaving available the needed $250,000 to complete design of the Vic High project.

The total cost of replacing the existing field at Topaz is projected to be between $1.5 million and $2.3 million, of which the city has about $1 million in a reserve.

“There’s definitely a cost savings in terms of design and in terms of having one field in one neighbourhood and one field in another neighbourhood, I definitely think there’s some merits to that,” Helps said.

But Isitt said there are higher priorities for both Topaz Park and the Fernwood neighbourhood, where Vic High is located, that should be addressed before the park playing field is replaced.

In the Topaz Park improvement plan, the community identified a number of amenities for the southwest corner of the park, including a bike-skills park for kids, an all-wheels park for skateboarders and others, and a picnic area, he said.

“I think the focus of the design resources and the capital resources should be on those amenities at this time and get to the playing fields at a later stage,” Isitt said.

If its recommendation is approved, staff suggests the city partner with the school district to have one contractor do the work for both projects.

Reducing the number of fields planned for Topaz Park will affect nine ball tournaments and two annual soccer tournaments held in the city park, the staff report says

“Such tournaments may, however, be accommodated across multiple sites, including the field proposed for Vic High School,” it says.

Helps agrees, saying it’s not uncommon for tournament games to be played at different venues around the city.

She called the opportunity to design the Topaz field and Vic High field at the same time “an unanticipated efficiency.”

Replacement of the existing Topaz field would be less intrusive than the planned expansion and could be completed more quickly at a lower cost, staff say.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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