Some Queensborough residents are urging the City of New Westminster to build a turf field and track in their island community.
Representatives of the parent advisory councils at the elementary and middle school in Queensborough, the Gurdwara Sahib Sukh Sagar and New Westminster Soccer Club and parents attended the March 13 city council meeting to speak in support of an all-weather field and track at Ryall Park. They said it would contribute to the physical and mental well-being of residents, including children, youth and seniors, by providing a place where community members could safely walk and play sports all year long.
“My grandpa was 86 and was hit by a car in 2020. You know, he was almost killed. He lasted about a year afterwards,” said Jag Sall. “If he would have a safe area to walk, I believe that wouldn't have happened.”
Sall, speaking on behalf of the Gurdwara Sahib Sukh Sagar, said the city projected in 2011 that Queensborough’s population would be 11,000 in 2050, but it reached that level in 2021.
“We're 30 years ahead of the projections that were from a decade ago,” he said. “So that just speaks to the need of facilities like this in the area.”
Sukh Sidhu, a lifelong Queensborough resident, said his rapidly growing community has some “unique challenges” related to accessibility and traffic in and out of the island for day-to-day tasks for the use of facilities. He noted there is no all-season facility in Queensborough.
“Although Queensborough has several outdoor grass fields for activities, their use is limited throughout the year for a variety of reasons. These include that Queensborough is a floodplain, resulting in poor soil conditions for activities, especially when it rains,” he said. “This basically renders our fields useless in the fall and winter months, as it turns into more or less a mud pit out there.”
Sidhu said the large open green space at Ryall Park South is used very rarely throughout the year because of its soggy soil conditions, and that space could be enhanced through the creation of an all-weather turf field.
Sukh Sadhre, president of the New Westminster Soccer Club, said registration from Queensborough addresses has dropped by about 300 kids in recent years. He said one of the big reasons for the decline in registration for organized sports among Queensborough residents is the challenge that parents face in getting across the bridge to take their kids to practices.
Harpreet Bal said the parent advisory council at Queen Elizabeth Elementary Schools welcomes the idea of a turf field and a track as it would help students stay active, something that’s beneficial for their health.
“As a mom, it's tough to tell my kids, ‘No I'm sorry, I can't put you in soccer because we've got to work or we can't make this 3:30 time because we can't make it with traffic,’” she said.
Bernadette Gourlay echoed support for a turf field and track, on behalf of the PAC at Queensborough Middle School. She said it would be beneficial to students and to their family members, including grandparents who often drop kids off at school and then go for a walk in the neighbourhood.
As one of the organizers of the school’s annual Terry Fox Run, Gourlay said it’s challenging to get students to and from the Old School House Park, where they do their run.
“It still has puddles, it's still very messy. It's not ideal,” she said. “The last time we did this, we have so much construction in Queensborough that we have to get like between 15 and 20 parent volunteers to line the route so that our kids have a safe place to run. … There's construction everywhere, and it's dangerous.”
Earlier this year, city council passed a motion directing staff to consider the need for a Queensborough all-weather field and track as part of the parks and recreation comprehensive plan process, which will start this spring. It will consider the medium- and long-term plans for parks and recreation services in New West.
“Specific to consideration of the request for facilities in Queensborough, that hasn't received any further specific consideration,” said Dean Gibson, the city’s director of parks and recreation. “But it will be looked at in consideration of the entirety of the needs of the community as a whole.”
What are the city’s plans?
In response to the delegations at the March 13 meeting, council posed several questions to staff. Here’s the responses:
When will the parks and recreation master plan process get underway?
Gibson: “We will be coming forward to council very shortly with respect to the terms of reference to kick off that process off. And then we will be off to the races for the next several months, to be able to execute that work.”
Are any all-weather fields included in the city’s current five-year capital plan?
Gibson: “In the city's current five-year financial plan, there is funding that has been set aside for doing some maintenance work within the sports fields as well as for the addition of one additional field at a location that is yet to be determined, out towards the end of that five year plan. … The location for where that field might go will again be part of a process as we consult with the sporting communities and local neighbourhood interests to determine where that funding is best invested in the community.”
How does the use of artificial turf fields (like the fields at Mercer Stadium and Queen’s Park East) compare to the use of grass fields (like those at Ryall, Hume or Moody parks?
Gibson: “A fully lit, artificial turf field will support approximately four to six times the use of a conventional grass field without lights, when you look at the availability for utilization over the course of the year. … You certainly have more capacity on a synthetic turf field with lights.”
How much does it cost to build an artificial turf field?
Gibson: “An off-the-shelf artificial turf field with lights is going to start at about $2-million-plus. A significant driver in the variability of the cost of those fields is the soil conditions upon which the field is actually constructed. We experienced that issue actually with the east field at Queen's Park. We had to excavate a significant amount of soil in order in order to hit the stable footing.”
What are the soil conditions like in Queensborough?
Gibson: “As we know, Queensborough is built in the middle of a river on fairly boggy, peaty soil, and so one would speculate that the soil conditions there would add a premium into the cost of constructing. One cannot speak with any certainty as to any specific location in Queensborough that would be better or worse for that condition.”
Has the city done any preliminary work to consider an all-weather field at Ryall Park?
Gibson: “We have, a short number of months ago, did some preliminary fit testing, if you will, of what a conventional eight-lane, 400-metre running track would be in terms of its overall dimensions, relative to the size of that particular field. Unfortunately, the use and the site are not compatible with each other, without looking beyond the footprint of the field itself, to be able to accommodate that particular need. At the same time, if there was a means of being able to somehow accommodate a track within that area, it would involve some trade-offs in terms of the multi-use nature of the field in itself. Right now, the field is able to support two softball diamonds as well as conventional field sports, such as football or soccer. … So the challenge to address this issue is not as small one, but it is certainly one that I think that as a parks and recreation department who is here to support the recreational sport needs of the community, we certainly have been hearing what the community has been able to share with respect to this issue and want to be able to make improvements in that area.”