‘Sports facilities are at capacity’

More turf fields and ice surfaces are needed.

Local sports organizations are relieved to hear that Maple Ridge is considering borrowing up to $110 million for recreation facilities.

Ridge Meadows Minor Hockey Association is reaching a point where it may have to turn kids away unless more ice is available.

The West Coast Auto Group Football Club said it is falling behind, with access to fewer turf fields than neighbouring cities.

And the Ridge Meadows Minor Lacrosse Association was told it can’t host provincials again until it can offer better facilities.

Minor hockey vice-president Derek Gullmes said there is definitely a shortage of ice surfaces, with two in Maple Ridge and three in Pitt Meadows.

“We’re close to the point where we’ll have to say no to kids who want to play hockey.”

The association has 1,050 members.

Gullmes said local kids pay more, and they play at hours well outside of what is considered prime time. Kids are up for practices at 5 a.m., and he said a bantam game finished at 10:30 p.m. in Pitt Meadows this week. So it will be close to midnight before players will be getting to bed, and “that’s getting too late.”

“Another sheet of ice or two would be welcomed,” added Gullmes, and that the eastern side of the city, where there is the most growth, makes the most sense.

He said Cam Neely Arena at Planet Ice is showing its age, and “we would love a nicer, higher end facility.”

He said the Langley Events Centre should be a model for Maple Ridge to consider, if it is looking at a spectator arena.

“We’re excited about the prospect of our community investing in recreation facilities, and more ice is definitely the priority for us.”

WCAGFC executive director Misty Thomas said there are lots of fields in the city, but under good conditions a grass field is restricted to just six hours of use per week in the winter, and in rainy or frosty conditions they can be closed entirely.

“There’s lots of fields – it’s the quality of fields and playability,” she said. “It isn’t lack of fields, it’s lack of field that can be used year-round, that are lit.”

Recent conditions have closed numerous fields, she said.

“We haven’t been able to play, and that wouldn’t be just us. It’s lacrosse, football or whoever.”

So these groups vie for time on three artificial turf fields at Westview, Pitt Meadows and SRT secondary schools. They are lighted, can take usage in all conditions, and are well used.

Ideally, Thomas said, the city would develop a large hub of centralized, lighted, artificial turf fields, with adequate parking and lighting, change rooms and other amenities, where large tournaments and events could be held.

Developing existing fields at Albion in this manner would be good, she said, but adding to the stock of available fields is also desirable.

And, she said the city is “really, really lacking” a community stadium, where sports and civic events could be held.

“That would be an Achilles heel if the city ever hosted a games event, like the B.C. Summer Games or B.C. Seniors Games,” she said.

Recreation planners cite a figure of one turf field for every 15,000 people in a community, so Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows should have six.

“Everybody else is way ahead of us,” Thomas said.

Minor lacrosse president Ron Williams said more subsidized floor time is at the top of his association’s wish list. It pays $40 per hour, subsidized by the city, but is renting more for $65 per hour at the Pitt Meadows Arenas.

Neighbouring associations pay just $25, based on comparisons in 2014, he said.

So the city could help make the sport more affordable for 650 minor lacrosse players with more subsidized arena time.

But the local arenas have limitations, especially for spectators, and that was highlighted during the summer’s pee wee provincial championship, hosted by the Burrards.

Williams said the event was a success, and his is the second largest association in the province.

“But we were told we wouldn’t be able to host the provincials again, until we get better facilities.”

The Burrards also play field lacrosse, which is growing in popularity, but Williams said that group may have to cap its numbers soon, as well.

The Burrards have 15 teams, but are allotted only two games per week on the turf fields.

“The league is telling us to cap our numbers, and limit the size of our club, because we don’t have anywhere to play,” said Williams. “We are really behind in artificial turf fields.”

He plans to address the issue to Mayor Nicole Read at a meeting scheduled in January.

Kelly Swift, general manager of community development, parks and recreation, said she is aware of the city’s shortage of rinks and turf fields.

“Many of our facilities are at or near capacity,” she said. “It’s a pivotal time to be planning our infrastructure.”

Council is discussing the prospect of borrowing $110 million to address the issue as part of its budget process this week.

She said a list of projects has not yet been decided upon.

Chief financial officer Paul Gill was tasked with presenting a financial model for discussion, and now staff is working with council to define priorities, she said.

“Council has diverse perspectives on how that could be allocated,” said Swift.

In addition to the demand for fields and ice surfaces, she said the aquatic centre is already operating at capacity, there are growing neighbourhoods in need of community centers, and the museum is in need of more space.

Once council decides its priorities, she said there would be a community consultation process, and before any borrowing is done, there would be a public approval process.

For her department, it’s admittedly a rousing conversation.

“Absolutely, it’s very exciting and council really does believe in the value of sports and recreation infrastructure.”

“This is the beginning of important dialogue in our community.”

Mayor Nicole Read echoed that sentiment, and said council has not pre-determined what facilities to develop.

“This is the start of the discussion, not the end,” she said. “There’s a lot of things this community needs right now.”

She emphasized it has not been determined council will borrow and spend $110 million, and that the city would seek funding from the provincial and federal governments for any projects.

“Maple Ridge council began a review of the city’s 2016-2020 business and financial plans with an overview presentation highlighting its core components. A key part of the overview was the unveiling of a Community Investment Funding Plan that would allow the City of Maple Ridge to make significant capital investments in sport, recreation and community facilities and ensure our capacity to take advantage of potential federal and provincial funding partnerships,” said a release from council on Tuesday.

“Last week I was making a presentation to the Commercial Real Estate Development Association and I challenged them to bring their big ideas to our community. I told them that we are hungry to ‘build awesome’ and that our council and staff are committed to achieving that goal,” said Read. “Maple Ridge is a fast-growing community, bursting at the seams, and this plan allows us to look at investments in facilities to support excellence in sports, recreation and community amenities to ensure that our youth and families enjoy the opportunity to achieve their dreams.”

This push for facilities comes on the heels of Maple Ridge announcing it will be walking away from its joint service agreement for parks and leisure services with Pitt Meadows at the end of October 2016. But Swift said the need pre-dates that decision by council.

She does not foresee Maple Ridge users being denied access to Pitt Meadows recreation facilities, or vice-versa.

“Both communities understand that minor hockey and soccer and sports groups serve both communities, and there would be no desire to diminish access to them,” said Swift.

This borrowing plan will not have an impact on the 2016 financial plan, or projected tax rates for the upcoming year.