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Synthetic grass in, but baseball out at Measure S field

Gregory Crofton
An artist rendering of Measure S ballfields. The large building on the left is not part of the project. It is the physical education building at Lake Tahoe Community College.
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A new soccer field equipped with lights, synthetic grass, a parking lot and restrooms – paid for in part by a $6.5 million bond measure in 2000 – should be completed by fall.

Before Measure S was approved by voters, details about the ballfield project off Al Tahoe Boulevard suggested it would cost about $1 million and include a baseball diamond.

But nearly four years later, after enduring setbacks because of planning and environmental regulations, the design of the field has changed and will not include a diamond because of space and cost constraints.

Instead, the regulation soccer field, which would also be used for football, is on schedule to be built this year. It will be accompanied at a later date by two all-purpose practice fields.

A portable backstop would make those fields available for Little Leaguers, Babe Ruth and softball players to practice on. Right now the demand for athletic fields at South Shore is so great, especially in the spring, that soccer players practice on baseball fields.

“This should relieve all the pressure off the baseball fields,” said Steve Weiss, South Lake Tahoe parks superintendent. “Having two large multipurpose fields we felt was the best way to meet our major concerns.”

And, in general, school enrollment is on the decline, and soccer is more popular a sport at South Shore than baseball. This year Babe Ruth will field seven teams, one less than it did last year, Weiss said.

Dave Olivo, who has been involved in Babe Ruth baseball for about 10 years, said that it’s “a bummer” that a diamond is not part of the plans for the field complex. Still he is excited about the project and supports the use of synthetic grass.

“It will at least give us a place to practice for games,” Olivo said. “So this definitely takes away the burden of (players) trying to practice between games.”

Whether the two practice fields will be sod, seeded or synthetic grass is yet to be determined. They are on track to be constructed spring 2005. Construction of the entire project will cost at least $1 million.

Additional funding may end up coming from Proposition 40, a $2.6 billion state initiative that provides funding for parks and other open space projects, according to John Upton, a South Lake Tahoe city councilman who led the campaign that passed Measure S with 69.1 percent of the vote.

The road to provide access to the fields is already built. Trees will be cut to make way for the project sometime this spring.

Constructing the soccer field with synthetic grass will cost about $450,000 plus the $150,000 it costs to clear and level the land. Weiss said the synthetic grass will cost about $150,000 more than a sod field would, but in the long run it will save thousands of dollars in maintenance and water fees.

Weiss says he is an advocate of the grass because it drains immediately when it rains. It doesn’t require water or fertilizer and the product, rooted with a mixture of sand and small pieces of rubber, is guaranteed for up to 10 years, but expected to last 15 to 20.

The grass, Weiss said, is durable, cushion-like and can be played four times as much as a sod field without having to worry about mud holes or wear and tear.

“It feels better than grass, wears better than grass, drains better than grass,” Weiss said. “It’s just more expensive.”

The South Tahoe Public Utility District, which built the road that will access the ball fields, has applied for a $200,000 grant to help offset the cost of the synthetic grass.

“We have a vested interest if we can decrease water demand,” said Dennis Cocking, district information officer.

Weiss said installing the grass would save about $25,000 a year in water costs, eliminate the need to pay for a $70,000 water pump to irrigate the fields and conserve 3.5 million gallons of water annually. If all three fields end up with synthetic grass, Weiss estimates it would save 8 million gallons of water each year.

Weiss said the permit to allow the synthetic grass still needs to be approved by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency when its Governing Board meets on May 26. The El Dorado County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to review the project April 20.

Staff at the TRPA says it supports a plan to allows the synthetic grass on at least the first field as long as the city has an impartial consultant complete a two-to three-year environmental study on the impact it has on the environment.

“It looks like there could be a lot of benefits,” said Julie Regan, TRPA communications director. “No fertilizer, no water usage, fewer trees cut down because the size of the fields would be smaller, no air pollution from mowers.”

– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com


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