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City facing $10 million in sports field upgrades

City councillors heard on Monday night that the majority of city-owned baseball and sports facilities, which are run by exclusive use agreements, are underutilized and in poor condition.
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Vandalism to Joe Martin Field in the Hart is shown in this 2015 file photo.

City councillors heard on Monday night that the majority of city-owned baseball and sports facilities, which are run by exclusive use agreements, are underutilized and in poor condition.

A report prepared by two city hall staff members, strategic parks planner Laurie-Ann Kosec and community coordinator Robyn McConkey, about the state of the city's sports facilities was presented to council on Monday evening. Council heard that one third of the city's sports facilities are nearing the end of their usable life. On average, facilities in Prince George are 25 years old. Many of these facilities were built to minimum standards in the 1970s by volunteer sport groups and are now deteriorating from a lack of investment, according to the report.

"Many ball diamonds and sport fields are dispersed, do not meet current standards, or are in poor condition and require over $10 million of upgrades," the report said.

Kosec and McConkey traced the cause of the state of these facilities, as well as the often low usage of these sports fields, to the prevalence of exclusive use agreements. Seventy-two per cent of city-owned ball diamonds and sports fields are operated through exclusive use agreements with individual sports teams and associations. These agreements allow sports facilities to be used solely by one association, which often does not share the grounds with other sports organizations. The facilities are maintained by the city, but are largely rented for a fee of $1,000 per year for sole use of specific baseball teams or associations. The remaining 28 per cent are fully run by the city, allowing multiple groups use of the facilities. School District 57 also operates an additional 56 sports facilities, under shared use agreements, which allow for community bookings.

"A lot of the larger sport organizations that manage larger groups typically have these exclusive agreements," McConkey said.

A population boom for Prince George in the 1970s led to construction of many of the city's baseball diamonds and sports fields. At the time, the city was undergoing a 'baseball boom,' according to McConkey; the popularity of that sport gave rise to the rapid development of baseball leagues. The exclusive agreements were initially signed with these associations, with the understanding that these associations, such P.G. Youth Baseball and P.G. Senior Men's Baseball, would pick up some of the responsibility for maintenance of the grounds.

Since this time, soccer has become the overwhelming summer sport of choice for youth in the city.

"Baseball was a big deal. Now it's different. We're seeing different trends and different sports, everything from ultimate to rugby," McConkey said.

"So the city is responsible that we meet the demands of everyone in our community and make sure that we're always responding to those trends and demands."

The report recommended council develop a strategy and a plan for renewal of facilities. The report also recommended that the city re-evaluate the use of exclusive use agreements in favour of community use agreements, and look for funding sources outside of limited city funds.

Prince George is set to host the B.C. Summer Games in 2022.