Imagine a place where the grass is green year-round: A clean, modern, idyllic park for all seasons, where recreational athletes can practice and play in a soft light that lingers well into the night.
While that may sound too good to be true, such a place is planned in the new Cedar Falls Park complex off Weaver Dairy Road in northern Chapel Hill. It was imagined by town Parks and Recreation Director Butch Kisiah and became reality before a round table of recreational partners from throughout Orange County.
Now underway, the park’s renovation includes the installation of a lighted artificial turf on expanded soccer fields much akin to the surface on UNC’s highly-used Hooker Intramural Fields along South Road; it will also include a new restroom facility.
With new lighting and year-round use, Kisiah expects the fields will be much more productive than any similar location with natural turf, which must schedule extended periods of nonuse to allow for drainage and turf regeneration.
“For every field we get artificially turfed, it would be like getting four fields,” he said. “This is going to be a great thing.”
Constructed in the mid-1970s, Cedar Falls Park has endured many years of use, which has resulted in the need to renovate numerous facilities, a July Parks and Recreation Capital and Maintenance Project Update said.
This project currently underway will replace the grass on Field One with two regulation-sized synthetic turf soccer fields, allowing for play seven days a week throughout the calendar year.
The project will also replace the existing entrance and part of the parking lot, bring many of the paths up to American Disability Act accessibility standards and provide lighting for the two new fields, which will allow for evening play up to the 11 p.m. curfew.
The estimated cost of the project will be just over $1.1 million for the fields and around $200,000 for the new lighting.
Kisiah said contractors have already removed some trees and one of the existing paths.
“Now that we’ve finally gotten a few permits approved, the big step was to start building a retaining wall,” he said. “That should have started ... this week.
“We’re making the fields as large as we can,” he explained, “And to do that, we’re taking away some of that area between the existing fields and the old Little League fields. That sidewalk is gone, the bathrooms are gone, the fence is down and the old bleachers have been taken out of the way to be used somewhere else. We should be digging and pouring footers for the retaining wall. As soon as we get that completed, we’ll really see a lot of work getting done.”
The new fields are scheduled to be usable in a matter of months.
“It’ll be this fall ... in about six to eight weeks, I believe,” Kisiah said. “The biggest obstacle we have to completion is getting the restrooms done, but until we do, we’ll use Porta-Jons. We’re planning on having fields ready and playable by the first of December.”
The restrooms were reportedly in extremely poor condition and in the way of the field expansion.
The structure will be replaced with a modern structure that is more water and energy efficient and meets ADA regulations. That second phase of the park’s construction is scheduled to be completed in 2014.
“They were in really bad shape,” Kisiah said. “The stalls weren’t close to being ADA accessible. We’re actually moving the location up between the Little League fields and the playground.”
Use of the fields will be gated and open to those arranging access. Still, Kisiah expects the fields will be extremely popular and will enjoy daily use.
“It’s built to take play every day,” he said, “and we’ll have something going on there every day. Not only soccer, but rugby, lacrosse – and anyone needing the field space can rent time.”
Kisiah said it was extremely gratifying to see work begin on the upgrade after watching plans spend so long in design and deliberation.
“It’s always neat to see it actually happening,” he said. “But it’s thanks to a lot of work by a lot of folks – not just me: (Orange County Commissioner) Pam Hemminger, folks with the Parks and Recreation Committee that worked with the Town Council to get money. A lot of folks have been involved, and it’s going to end up being a pretty neat deal.”
Kisiah said he also hoped that popularity of the new fields would serve as a model for similar projects at other Chapel Hill parks.
“I’d love to be able to say a year from now that the fields at Cedar Falls have been such a success, now let’s look at doing the ones at Homestead, too,” he said. “Those aren’t regulation size, and they just get killed. That’s the next group of fields I’d try to tackle. We’ve had to go in almost every year to do something to restore them.”
There are also more improvements in store for Cedar Falls Park.
“In our master plan, we’re going to someday build a tennis center there with its own restrooms,” Kisiah added. “That’s 10 or 11 years from now, though.”
Conditions won’t always be perfect for recreation on the new fields at Cedar Falls Park. Still, these improvements are certainly good for the games people play and the people who play them.