In 2015, the Bend FC Timbers announced plans to add four desperately needed artificial-turf fields to Pine Nursery Park by the end of 2017.

That original completion goal proved to be too ambitious — the soccer club has yet to begin work at the 8-acre patch in the northeast corner of the park — but the “Build It Forward” campaign is still at work, and the need for additional playing fields in Bend is as pressing as ever.

Tammy Ambrose, the project coordinator for the Build It Forward campaign, said the current plan is to complete the complex in two phases, with the first two lighted fields finished by 2020 and the next two installed by 2025.

“Our goal is to break ground, so to speak, in the spring of 2019,” Ambrose said.

Ambrose said the Timbers need $3.2 million to complete the first phase of the project. The cost would be higher, but the land is owned by the Bend Park & Recreation District, which has taken care of infrastructure such as parking and restrooms.

“We’ve made tremendous progress to that mark, but we’re still working on it,” Ambrose said of the Build It Forward fundraising effort. “We’ve been fortunate in that we’ve received a few foundation grants, and incrementally we’ve received money from local businesses, but there hasn’t been that one large donor. That doesn’t mean it’s not out there.”

Tara Bilanski, the executive director of both the Bend FC Timbers and the Build It Forward capital campaign, said the Timbers hope to lure a large donor who will pay for naming rights to the fields, which will be used for tournaments that draw teams from across the West in addition to practices and recreational league games.

“We feel that is realistic,” Bilanski said of finding a sponsor to lend its name to the complex. “Somebody will want it, whether it will be as a contribution or from the marketing angle for a company. They would get broad recognition, not only here in Central Oregon, but for throughout Oregon and even into the Northwest because of our tournaments.”

Bilanski said she hopes that donors will remain excited about the project once they see the first two fields completed.

“We believe that when we have Phase I built, it will enable us to build Phase II, because we’ll have something tangible to show,” Bilanski said. “While it’s a huge project, we’re looking for simple fields that can make play accessible to all. And when I say all, that’s not just soccer, but all sports.”

When the project was first announced in 2015, the Timbers were struggling to find room for all of their 2,600 youth soccer players to practice and play games in Bend. Ron Fritz, who was the vice president of the club at the time, said as many as five Timbers teams would practice at the same time at Summit High School, which was (and remains) the only turf field in town. But the need for new fields has only increased since, as the Timbers enrollment now tops 3,200 players ages 6 to 18.

“We’re actually now playing games in Redmond,” Bilanski said. “While it’s not too far, it’s definitely not in Bend. We had our tournament this past year, and we had to extend out to Sisters for the fields. We have a rec league currently going that’s at capacity. We can’t accept more players to participate.”

All four of the new fields will be located on a section of Pine Nursery Park that is not currently developed, so construction should not disrupt the use of any existing fields or other amenities at the 159-acre park. And while two (and, eventually, four) additional fields may not sound like much in a town where literally thousands of athletes are trying to get field time, Bilanski said lighted turf fields can be used much more often that a typical patch of grass.

“We envision that adults will want to be out there, obviously at different times than kids,” Bilanski said. “They can stay out there later, so we can host adult leagues, not only in soccer but in other sports. And with turf, you can withstand the weather and actually shovel it, plow it, so if we want to get out there, even in difficult weather conditions, we’re still able to do that. Right now, you close down the grass during the winter months, otherwise you’re just going to ruin the grass that’s there. With turf, you can play year-round.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0305, vjacobsen@bendbulletin.com

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