CHAPEL HILL - There's no grass growing under the feet of Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation director Butch Kisiah. And if he and numerous other area coaches, parents, and administrators have their way, there may something even more practical beneath the feet of athletes at Cedar Falls Park on Weaver Dairy Road in Chapel Hill.
The Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation Department hosted a public forum this past Wednesday evening at the Homestead Aquatics Center to discuss the conversion of an existing field to a synthetic turf field at the park.
While field usability and turf growth has been a challenge at various parks around town, Kisiah is now focusing on growing support for a viable alternative.
Representatives from Highlanders Rugby, Triangle United Soccer, the Chapel Hill / Carrboro YMCA, and other groups made up the nearly two-dozen attendees showing support at the meeting.
"Having a floodlit, artificial-turf field at Cedar Falls would be fantastic," Highlanders founder and coach Robert Joseph said. "When it comes to playing games, I do prefer real grass fields, but in balance having a practice field is a much more important issue for us."
Local playing fields have been problematic, as overuse and challenging soil and climate conditions have wreaked havoc on natural turf, and rains can postpone use for long periods.
"Right now we have to close a lot of our fields because they don't drain well with a lot of rain," Kisiah said, "but (at Cedar Falls) we won't be having those problems."
A handout noted that Orange County has committed $623,000 toward this project, but Chapel Hill must provide a match of at least $311,500. Kisiah said the town has already spent about $50,000 for improvements to the parking lot at Cedar Falls, leaving around $261,000 as yet unaccounted for.
"We're going to take a generous contribution from Orange County that had been set aside as what was known as the 'Soccer Superfund,'" he said. "It had been earmarked for another project that is (no longer) going to be built. I asked them for the money, and...they said, 'Sure.' The county's given us five years to use their part of the money."
Chapel Hill unsuccessfully applied for a $500,000 PARTF grant in 2011, and the Town will apply for a $300,000 PARTF grant later this month.
Preliminary estimates put the total cost of the project -- including ADA improvements, goals, and the purchase of maintenance equipment -- at between $1 million and $1.2 million.
The county's contribution is contingent on use of the fields for soccer, among other activities.
"We're going to have as many groups as possible use these fields," Kisiah said, who added that the field's specific uses would be a later topic for study by his department.
The project would convert the surface of the largest of the playing fields (closest to the parking lot) which was formerly a softball / baseball field. Fully funded, the transformation would create two side-by-side regulation adult-sized soccer fields.
"What we'd like to come away with is a huge square of synthetic turf that we could use of a lot of different things," Kisiah said. "We'd have room for rugby, whatever, and we'd use it as much as we could use it."
Before relocating to Chapel Hill, both Kisiah and current Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation assistant director for operations Jim Orr oversaw the installation of synthetic turf fields in Asheville.
Orr and Kisiah said , if funded by mid-May, the agency would likely begin lining up firms and contractors with the start of the new fiscal year in July. The project would be finished within 18 months, Orr estimated. The agency would potentially look to expand the project to include restroom renovation, concessions, landscaping, and lights for evening use.
"To get full use of the fields in the summertime, we'll have to be able to play at night," Kisiah said.
Orr said the field, with proper care, would be highly durable.
"The full warranty typically lasts eight years," Orr said, "but the industry norm is anywhere from between a 12 and 15-year life cycle."
"We'd like to demonstrate how successful we can be with these kinds of fields, and doing that, we'd look forward to doing other fields the same way," Kisiah added. "Specifically, the ones I'd want to do would be the two soccer fields at Homestead Park."
Garnering a show of support from those attending the meeting, Kisiah said that letters to the Town in support of the project might reflect a show of solidarity.
"If we're going to put this kind of money into them, we're going to do it right," he said. "These are going to be nice facilities, and they're going to last a long time."
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be published, broadcast or redistributed in any manner.