In his epic tale “The Odyssey,” the Greek poet Homer spoke of Elysian Fields, beautiful meadows where those favored by the gods could bask in the afterlife. There, Homer said, life would be easier, without concern for “rain, nor hail, nor snow.” It was a Greek heaven: idyllic pastures upon which heroes might frolic at any time.
Such is the image envisioned by the Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation Department for Homestead Park, where plans for artificial turf will mean greener athletic fields regardless of weather and throughout the year.
The Chapel Hill Town Council voted June 20 to proceed with the agreement among partners including Rainbow and Triangle United Soccer. Homestead Park currently offers the two lighted grass athletic fields, two lighted baseball/softball fields, an outdoor basketball court, a playground and picnic area with a shelter, batting cages, a dog park, a lighted skate park, and the indoor swimming pools at the Homestead Aquatic Center.
The move to artificial turf follows the precedent set with the 2013 resurfacing of athletic fields at Chapel Hill’s Cedar Falls Park off Weaver Dairy Road, which was also partly funded through community partnerships.
At the time, then Parks and Recreation Director Butch Kisiah predicted that success at that location would lead to similar projects elsewhere.
“I’d love to be able to say a year from now that the fields at Cedar Falls have been such a success, now let’s look at doing the ones at Homestead too,” Kisiah said in December, 2013. “Those at Homestead … just get killed. That’s the next group of fields I’d try to tackle. We’ve had to go in almost every year to do something to restore them.”
Parks and Recreation athletics specialist Michael Troutman said the Cedar Falls Park fields are indeed a success.
“Those turf fields at Cedar Falls are now pretty much in use all the time,” he said. “We’ve got so many people that want to get on those fields, mostly because, with the turf there, there’s not as much chance of a rain out. With the turf fields, they’re still playable (despite rain), and with a more consistent footing.”
Current Parks and Recreation Director Jim Orr agreed artificial turf allows a complex to be used throughout the year. “We currently only use Homestead six months out of the year like the field at Southern Community Park, and … we’re closed an additional month-and-a-half due to wet conditions,” he said.
The move to artificial turf is estimated to cost just under $1 million, but soccer associations have promised to pay nearly 80 percent of the tab.
Orr said the soccer associations will not monopolize the fields, however.
“It’s not just for soccer, despite our partnerships with soccer,” he said. “It will be used by many more groups, and soccer groups won’t have preferential choice in terms of field rentals.”
The field should be completed by fall 2017.
“It should be a simple project,” Orr said. “Nothing will have to be constructed. “They’ll cut down (beneath the surface) to build the base, but then they’ll only have to build a cement (skirt) around the fields.”
Unlike Cedar Falls, Orr said Homestead will feature a different infill.
“To the naked eye, you wouldn’t know the difference,” Orr explained. “It’s not recycled materials – it’s called virgin rubber and won’t hurt the environment: it won’t disintegrate into dust particles.”
Orr said the project will now go out to bid and should take between 90 and 180 days to complete depending on weather. Once the Homestead project is completed, Parks and Recreation will tackle the town parks system’s maintenance needs.
“We’ll take a list at our master plan,” he said, “because we’ve got a huge park-by-park list of maintenance issues to look at – from picnic shelters, restrooms, and walkways to signage and fencing. Right now we’re already fixing tennis courts and addressing signage and lights.”