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Palm Beach Post (Florida)
While it's great that the number of people in outdoor sports programs in the city has nearly doubled in five years, one participant gets trampled every time: the field.
And city officials say that with fields in short supply, participation growing and maintenance budgets trimmed, turfs in Palm Beach Gardens are getting less time to recover from the battering of constant play. A staff report released Friday says field conditions are worsening and require both quick and long-term action.
The short-term strategies under consideration include: establishing minimum down times for fields to rejuvenate; increasing the field maintenance budget to allow more intensive care of the fields during these periods; and educating teams that use the fields about how not to abuse the turf.
"The curve is beating us," Deputy City Manager Jack Doughney said Friday, displaying a graph showing participant hours rose while maintenance staff hours fell over the past five years.
The city maintains 15 public parks covering 185 acres. These have 32 sports fields open day and night.
Since 2009, the report said, the fields have seen an "inordinate increase" in play by children and adults but mainly led by increased participation in the Palm Beach Gardens Youth Athletic Association, the city's main youth sports organization. The organization saw its membership grow to nearly 7,000 last year from 3,885 in 2009.
Sports have been added, such as lacrosse, flag football and soccer programs. The soccer program has doubled in size and flag football has increased by 30 percent. There has also been an increase in travel team sports, tournaments and in adult sports leagues, the report said.
The result is that the fields don't have time to naturally recover or be maintained, he said, showing photos of brown, overused soccer fields at Gardens Park. "You can see the cleats!" Doughney said.
City Manager Ron Ferris said he has asked council members to review the report and offer their thoughts.
The staff report recommended the city consider raising fees for field permits and non-recreation programs, such as parties held at park facilities, and to "evaluate nonresident participation" in youth athletic association programs.
City officials are quick to point out that more than half of association's participants reside outside the city. While there's a $40 fee for out-of-town residents to play in Palm Beach Gardens programs, officials estimate that Palm Beach Gardens residents pay $170, through their taxes.
Long-term strategies suggested for consideration included installing synthetic turf on some fields and changing grass types to a sturdier variety on others.
The other option is to find a way to increase the number of fields, whether by partnering with the school district or the county, but those discussions have yet to take place.
The developers of the expansive Avenir project, on the former Vavrus Ranch, have included a regional park as part of their initial plans. Ferris said he can't count on that, though, and that any fields there would be better situated for residents in that far western section of the city.
County Commissioner Hal Valeche said Friday that he and City Council member Marcie Tinsley plan to meet with county parks officials within the next two weeks about reviving plans for playing fields on a county site off Central Boulevard that last year was rejected as a spring training stadium site.
"We've had plans in the past to develop that, either as an active or passive park," Valeche said. "There is a need for more playing fields. We're just going to have a preliminary meeting with the head of our Parks Department and get an idea of what our plans are."
Although the park is relatively high on the department's priority list, he said, "We don't have a lot of extra money around -- it's going to be another challenging budget year."
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