Two new turf fields under review by city council

McNary’s turf field

Two Marion County commissioners appeared at an April 11 city council work session to advocate for two new turf sports/activity fields in Keizer and to discuss how to fund it.

In January, Marion County presented Keizer with a notice of funding award for $2 million to help cover the cost of up to two all-weather turf soccer/football fields at Keizer Rapids Park. Part of the arrangement includes the city of Keizer contributing $2 million toward the project.

The nature of the matching grant by the county means the funds contributed both by the city and county for the two turf fields would come exclusively from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) award, and not from the city’s general fund. The $4.2 million total estimated cost of the project would include engineering costs, site preparation, the turf itself as well as the cost of installation, fencing, parking lot improvements and contingency funds.

“The reason why turf is important is because we have really rainy winters,” said Marion County Commissioner Colm Willis during his address to the council. “Our fields turn into big mud puddles and they don’t let the kids play in the winter because they don’t want to destroy the field.”

Willis told a story from his first year on the job about a group of 4H students – mostly children of farmworkers – who wanted to play competitive soccer and found a way to do that for a relatively low cost. 

Willis said the kids had grown up together locally, playing soccer as a team or against each other since they were four or five years old. Their coach was able to obtain a license to play competitive soccer, and Oregon State University partnered with them to help cover the exorbitant costs of soccer in Portland under the university’s 4H program.

“A lot of these kids – their families didn’t have a lot of money, and in Portland, to play competitive soccer it can cost as much as $2,000 a year,” he said. “This 4H group was able to play for around $100 per year.”

OSU then pulled out of the program unexpectedly. City Councilor Roland Herrera asked Willis why.

“It was a really strange situation,” said Willis. “To this day, I couldn’t tell you why. OSU was restructuring a lot of its state-wide 4H structure at the time, and they now have a new director of the 4H program, so it could have been part of that. It was really strange – one month we were meeting and it was the greatest thing ever, the next month they said they were ending this program with no explanation.”

Willis then contacted the player’s families, who expressed how important it was to them, so the county asked the local communities if there was any group able to take on the program as it was, without OSU or 4H support. 

“To their credit, what was then Keizer Soccer Club said yeah we’d be willing to take these kids and help the program continue,” said Willis. “And then COVID hit.”

“One of the ways they would play is they would go and purchase time on different fields that the school district owned around the area, and when COVID happened those field weren’t available anymore. They weren’t able to play for almost two years.”

Willis said that in deciding how to spend ARPA funds, one of the things that came up with the Marion County board was the ability of kids to have a place to play and for this type of program to continue. He said the county wanted to support kids whose parents might not have enough money to play competitive sports, otherwise.

Willis met with Keizer and other local communities, searching for a place to put the fields, and Keizer Rapids Park came up.

“They talked about how this was a park that had planned to have fields for a while, and this was a good place for us to invest money,” he said.

After meeting with the West Keizer Neighborhood Association to talk about their concerns, Willis said he felt the community wanted the fields as long as the disruptions were minimized.

“I have personally facilitated and fundraised for two turf fields in our community to support kids – the McNary turf field and the McKay turf field,” said Marion County Commissioner and Keizer resident, Danielle Bethell.

She described the McNary project as huge.  

“It cost a lot of money,” she said. “But the reason we needed to do it is because we took a field that had approximately 180 uses a year, if that based on weather, to 1,800 uses or more a year for our kids.”

Bethell described the difficulties and challenges surrounding youth athletics during the pandemic, and how the turf fields would help address a regional need. The school district, she said, is constantly restricted by space.

“Our community is growing and we do not have enough resources to support our growth,” she said. “So these two fields are going to have a significant regional impact to our community.”

Bethell said the county is taking $2 million out of a $68 million bucket, and providing it for activities that can impact families and benefit local community for generations.  

“We can’t give these dollars to other communities because they don’t have a master plan and a parks plan that calls for this – and you do,” she told the council. “You’re the community that I know best that can get this done, because I’ve seen you do it.”

While the current parks plan doesn’t actually call for two new turf fields, the council is currently considering the request. Due to the nature of the ARPA grants, the money has to be spent in allocations by the end of 2024 and then again in 2026, or the city loses access to the current $7 million basket.

Bethell and Willis both told the council the county had a finance team that would help track and manage the ARPA funds, going forward – Bethell said she wanted to create a partnership between the county and the city.

A number of other speakers also advocated for the project, including former city mayor Lore Christopher and representatives from the Mid-Willamette Valley Soccer Club and McNary High School. Nobody appeared at the meeting to advocate against the project.

“Things could go a lot faster once we get to the point of go,” said Mayor Cathy Clark. “Once that happens, we’ll work out a contractual agreement with Marion County.