By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

The Salem-Keizer Education Foundation (SKEF) is looking for fields to host its youth soccer games, and has its eyes on the back 40 at Claggett Creek Middle School. However, organizers are asking the city of Keizer to pick up the water tab if the plan goes forward.

SKEF Executive Director Krina Lee and longtime Keizer youth sports advocate Clint Holland inquired about the possibility at a meeting of the Keizer City council Monday, July 16.

“We are desperate for facilities. There were some weekends last year when we were in 10 different facilities throughout Salem and Keizer,” Lee said.

Lee said SKEF and Holland were willing to put forth the time and effort to rehabilitate the fields on the campus using volunteers and private donations, but are trying to avoid the school district incurring additional expense for water to maintain if improvements are done.

Lee said the fields at the school are in such poor shape that physical education teachers are planning classes around the worst spots.

“We would have to reseed and level certain areas because the gophers are going wild,” Holland said. He estimated the campus could become home to three or four new fields.

At press time, city staff didn’t have a bead on how much watering the Claggett fields would cost, but doing so wouldn’t be a first. Around the turn of the millennium, volunteers rehabilitated fields at Whiteaker Middle School and the city paid the irrigation bill for the next seven years. The contractual agreement only lasted five years, but Keizer Public Works Director Bill Lawyer said it took the city “some time to catch up.” Since then, the Salem-Keizer School District has been billed for the water used to maintain the fields. To this day, cheers from the baseball and soccer fields at Whiteaker can be heard for blocks around the school.

In exchange for rehabbing the fields and establishing a concession stand to pay for continued maintenance, SKEF would ask for first right-of-refusal on Saturdays when its soccer season is in full swing.

Lawyer and Holland believe that there are already two water meters near the fields, one for the school  and one for the city, which would cut some of the costs associated with putting in new infrastructure.

After the meeting, Lawyer said he would not support using the park services fee the city collects on utility bills to cover the cost of watering the fields at Claggett.

“The fees are intended for use in city-owned park properties to increase the level of service, replace existing amenities and make additional improvements to the parks system once we catch up on all of the deferred maintenance,” Lawyer said.

City councilors seemed receptive to the idea, but withheld any action while waiting to find out what the exact costs to the city would be.

“I think it’s something that we really do need. I think it would be awesome,” said Councilor Roland Herrera.

Holland added he would be willing to assist in efforts to rehabilitate fields at Cummings Elementary School if a similar deal for water could be reached there.