By Scott Hammers

The Bulletin

Bend residents could see four new Bend Park & Recreation District multipurpose athletic fields built over the next five years.

Staff recommendations presented to the district board recently called for two new fields next to Pacific Crest Elementary School and two more at Pine Nursery Park, with the possibility of lighting some fields at Pine Nursery if funds are available.

As Bend has grown, the park district has added several parks in recent years, but has been slower to add athletic fields. Four softball fields completed in 2010 at Pine Nursery Park were the last athletic fields built by the district.

Matt Mercer, recreation director with the park district, said Bend is not currently lacking for athletic fields, but participation in district sports programs has closely tracked population growth over the last decade. If growth continues, field space will become more limited, he said, potentially leading to turf damage and less desirable schedules for games and practices.

Mercer said the proposed fields at Pacific Crest Elementary would be a continuation of the district’s long partnership with Bend-La Pine Schools. School playgrounds provide additional space for district programs, Mercer said, and also make it possible to schedule games and practices closer to where participants live. The school district’s fields are more evenly distributed around the community and more numerous — 37 fields in 22 locations, versus 19 fields in eight locations operated by the park district.

The bulk of park and school district fields are on the city’s flatter east side, with 36 fields compared to 20 on the west side of the Parkway. West-side residents are slightly more likely than their east-side counterparts to participate in activities that use these fields — 54 percent are west-siders, while 46 percent are east-siders.

Mercer said Bend-La Pine Schools approached the district about locating fields at Pacific Crest Elementary School several months ago. With few pieces of large, flat, undeveloped land remaining in Bend, particularly on the west side, Mercer said placing fields at the school along Skyliners Road is an attractive opportunity.

The district has two large properties slated for future field development at Big Sky Park and at Pine Nursery Park. The location at Pine Nursery east of the off-leash area is leased to the private Bend FC Timbers soccer club, which intends to develop artificial turf fields on the property.

As part of its review of athletic fields and how they’re used, the district may look at scheduling some youth sports practices at parks that have large expanses of grass that are not technically considered athletic fields, Mercer said.

The district is also looking at field lighting as a lower-cost alternative to building new facilities.

Lighting an existing field would run the district $200,000 to $250,000, according to district estimates, and make the field usable for an additional 12 to 18 hours a week. Powering the lights would cost an estimated $1,000 per year.

A new field, on the other hand, would cost around $500,000 to build and consume around $20,000 a year in maintenance. A new field could add 30 to 71 playable hours a week — 71 hours in summer, when the sun sets later.

Mercer said lighting could be particularly helpful in spring and fall, when several programs offered by the district and private clubs that use district facilities overlap. Field demand is notably lower in summer, he said, and provides an opportunity for overused turf to recover.

The proposal to add four new fields will be considered as part of the park district’s periodic review of its five-year capital improvement plan, scheduled to kick off in January. Mercer said the proposed fields will be weighed against other potential district projects, but have been included in earlier versions of the capital improvement plan.

— Reporter: 541-383-0387, shammers@bendbulletin.com

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