Three things in Yellowknife are certain: death, taxes, and complaints about the fieldhouse. City councillors are juggling the last two.
Amid this week’s 2023 budget deliberations, councillors were delighted to discover City Hall intends to replace the much-maligned surface of the city’s signature indoor rec facility.
The fieldhouse’s two playing fields, installed a little over a decade ago, are primarily used as soccer fields, though they support a range of other sports like ultimate and rugby.
And whereas rugby and soccer fans see eye-to-eye on almost nothing, any fieldhouse user you talk to will agree: the surface ain’t great.
“A few of my personal friends have had some pretty serious injuries on this surface,” said Councillor Tom McLennan on Monday night as budget deliberations began.
“There has been a pretty high number of injuries,” added Councillor Ryan Fequet, well-versed in the fields’ failings as a former president of the NWT Soccer Association.
Grant White, the city’s director of community services, said $295,000 is set aside to resurface each field. One will be replaced in 2023, the other in 2024.
The question now is: what will the new surface look like?
White told councillors the money budgeted should be enough for “a mid-grade field” that will “either be a carpet or a multi-use floor.” The city is looking to purchase a tiled product, he said, so it’s easier to replace individual portions – rather than the entire surface – if areas become worn or damaged.
Beyond that, so far there is not much detail about what to expect.
If the budget passes with the resurfacing project intact, which appears likely, White said consultations with user groups will begin at the start of 2023 with the aim of completing the work in the summer – when soccer players and many other athletes are outdoors instead.
Both Fequet and Mayor Rebecca Alty urged city staff to ensure a variety of factors, like reduction of injury and user comfort, are considered when choosing a surface, not just the budget available.
“There are alternative surfaces with rubber pellets that do reduce injury, there’s a lot of research behind that,” Fequet said.
“I just want to make sure we are definitely looking at something that is not just going to maximize our usage but be the safest and the best quality for our user groups.”
Potential new groups
Maximizing usage is a big priority for the city.
Sheila Bassi-Kellett, Yellowknife’s city manager, said the fieldhouse has one of the city’s lowest utilization rates because after indoor soccer’s winter season wraps up, almost nothing replaces it, leaving the fields empty for about half the year.
“There is a lot of downtime in that facility once soccer is done,” White acknowledged.
“The idea is to discuss not only with current user groups, but also any potential user groups, a surface that will lengthen the season and have much longer use through 12 months of the year, rather than the six months it is being used.”
More information is likely to follow in January if consultations go ahead as planned.
That will be a relief for user groups who have spent years complaining to anyone who will listen about the surface, even though it isn’t – by municipal standards – that old.
As early as 2015, city councillors were receiving presentations from disappointed residents. Soccer coach Joe Acorn told council that year: “The turf that we have in there now? Honestly, it’s old technology … that is not a healthy surface to play on.”
On Monday, McLennan said of the resurfacing project: “It’s great to see this and awesome that we’ll have a bunch of public engagement.”
White had one last revelation that may surprise some fieldhouse users.
Responding to a question from Councillor Cat McGurk, he said: “Our current floor has a cushion underlay. They all do.”
The size of the next floor’s cushioning, he said, will come down to how far the budget stretches.