Ball rolling on artificial turf field at McMillan Park
There was much joy at Thorold High Wednesday following the City of Thorold council’s decision Tuesday night to begin the first steps towards installing an artificial turf field at McMillan Park.
Earlier this year, the District School Board of Niagara had proposed a $3 million artificial turf field and eight-lane rubberized track but council came back with its concerns about the relocation of the McMillan Park baseball diamond.
Tuesday night, Stacey Veld, the DSBN’s superintendent of business and treasurer, returned to council to pitch a revised proposal.
“This proposal would have the DSBN construct a synthetic turf field only which would allow for a combined football/baseball field at this park,” Veld said. “We are looking for council to support the opportunity for DSBN to work with city staff as well as community partners such as the local baseball association to develop this property into something state of the art, including updated lighting.”
After council members were assured the local soccer and baseball associations and Thorold Anchors senior baseball team would be involved in the planning process and that the relocation of the park’s splash pad would be front and centre in discussions, the following motion was approved.
“That staff be directed to work with the DSBN to initiate a public consultation process with the local community, residents and potential user groups regarding DSBN’s artificial turf proposal at McMillan Park and that staff be directed to prepare a report recommending a further course of action upon completion of the public consultation process,” Mayor Terry Ugulini said.
Heather Sweezey, Thorold Secondary School’s phys-ed head, was delighted with the news.
“Our students who take phys-ed can now play all sports such as soccer, rugby, baseball, ultimate Frisbee, football in a properly sized and lined setting on a safe and level playing field,” she said. “For our football team, they can practice on a field with proper spacing and won’t have to worry about having to reschedule games at alternate locations anymore if the weather is bad.”
It is also great news for the school’s other squads.
“For the first time in decades, our soccer teams will be able to practice on a properly sized field with actual nets and can host home games,” she said. “Our baseball team will have the luxury of playing on a state of the art synthetic field.”
Sweezey sees it as a win/win for all concerned.
“This just strengthens our already strong relationship with the City of Thorold and our community partners which will help with the continued growth of Thorold Secondary School.”
School board superintendent Leanne Smith was thrilled with council’s decision.
“It is a wonderful opportunity for our students and so many of our other high schools already have that. We are always looking at equity and Thorold Secondary School has been growing,” she said. “We have more than 680 students currently and we have special education classes. A regular field has so many lumps and bumps and holes and it would certainly be safer. Our phys-ed classes would benefit from it, the community would benefit from it.
“It just gives you that varsity feel and takes everything up a notch.”
With council’s approval, the ball will soon start rolling on the proposal.
“I think it is possible to move quickly on this,” said Geoff Holman, Thorold’s director of public works and community services. “The key is finding the proper way to engage the community in these discussions.”
The city will be able to reach out quickly to the presidents of the Thorold soccer and baseball associations but getting input from local residents might be a little more problematic given the pandemic.
“We will work on this over the holidays to try and come up with an effective plan and the hope is we can get back to council in February or March with an update at least to give it some ideas whether or not we can move quickly on this,” Holman said.
The school board is hoping for a quick approval of the plan.
“If we can move forward, we are looking to do it in the spring,” Smith said. “It was passed by our finance committee to happen in this school year. I am not the superintendent of business but ideally we would like to have it ready in September for the 2022 school year.”
The DSBN has constructed nine synthetic turf fields and tracks. Other DSBN schools that don’t have a turf field are St. Catharines Collegiate, Eden, Laura Secord and Stamford. In September, the board announced it would be installing a turf field and track at Collegiate.
“It is a wonderful opportunity for our students and so many of our other high schools already have that. We are always looking at equity and Thorold Secondary School has been growing,” Smith said. “We have more than 680 students currently and we have special education classes.”
Most of the councillors at Tuesday’s Zoom meeting expressed enthusiastic support for the turf field.
“I am all for anything that makes Thorold High viable in the future in case schools close and something happens,” Councillor Ken Sentance said. “I am a graduate of there and I hope we can work something out.”
Councillor Carmen DeRose was among many who echoed those thoughts.
“This is an important endeavour. I have played sports in Thorold all my life and I think it is a great fit for the community at Thorold High.”
Councillor John Kenny described it as a great opportunity for the city and hopes the city can do more that just rubber stamp the DSBN-funded project without offering any financial assistance.
“I am a little bit troubled that most of the councillors are saying, ‘Are they going to foot the whole bill?’ I think the city should step up and send a message that we are not looking for a complete freebie when these people meet,” he said. “I think it is a bad message — that is my point of view — and I would be willing to budget some money towards bullpens and different things that we have been talking about for a long time.”