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Gresham High replacing artificial athletics turf

Work will take place during the summer at a cost of nearly $1.5 million

The 13-year-old artificial surface field at Gresham High School is so worn out and potentially unsafe that the district plans to close the field in May and replace it this summer.

The project — including expanding and resurfacing the track and moving the north grandstand and lights — could cost $1.49 million.

The replacement was included in a district-wide bond that failed badly in 2013 but now can no longer wait, Gresham Barlow School District chief financial officer Mike Schofield told the school board Thursday night.

“It’s really rugged and it’s become a safety issue,” Schofield said. “If we do nothing we will face closing the field in the near future.”

When it was installed in 2002 the artificial surface field was the only one of its kind east of Interstate 205. Now most Portland-area high schools and even some middle schools have them.

When built, the Gresham field was billed as a community resource not only for high school use but burgeoning youth sports. It was paid for through a community fundraising campaign and district money.

Where the former grass field could be used only 20-25 times a year for high school sports, district officials say the artificial grass field is now used 2,500 times a year for everything from physical education classes to youth soccer and football.

But the fields generally have an 8-10 year lifespan and the heavy use of Gresham’s 13-year-old field has taken its toll.

"We have so many needs and issues in the district … but this one jumps off the page,” Schofield said.

Schofield said administrators would return in February with a proposal for board approval.

But a preliminary plan sketched out Thursday night calls for the field to close at the end of May and excavation started immediately. The north grandstands and lights will be moved to the outside of the track, Schofield said.

The field could be finished by late August but the track — resurfaced and expanded to eight lanes — will come later in the fall.

Schofield said the district hopes to cut the cost of the project by soliciting grants, cash and in-kind donations. It also banked $260,000 in fees paid by soccer and football clubs renting the field. If needed, Schofield said the district will seek a low-interest loan no longer than 10 years to pay the remainder and use rental fees to pay it back.

The replacement is part of a slower, larger district plan looking at athletic fields at Gresham and Sam Barlow high schools.

While the 8-year-old artificial surface field at Barlow won’t need to be replaced for years, Schofield said, the facility lacks concession, restroom, bleachers and other amenities to host most football games, a goal of being a comprehensive high school. Instead, the district pays $2,800 per night to rent the field at Mt. Hood Community College for most Barlow football games.

School board members generally expressed support for the Gresham project, but urged administrators to help cut the cost by aggressively seeking donations. The Gresham-Barlow Education Foundation organized fundraising for the first Gresham field back in 2000-01, helping collect $360,000. The Barlow field in 2006 was aided by extensive in-kind construction work.

But that effort could be hampered by recently announced plans by the most frequent renter of the Gresham and Barlow high fields. The Gresham-based Eastside Timbers Soccer Club, which has extensive youth and adult soccer programs stretching from Clackamas to Sandy, has announced plans to build its own complex on recently acquired land on Southeast 174th Avenue between Powell Boulevard and Foster Road. Plans call for three lighted artificial surface fields, offices, meeting rooms and futsal courts. In announcing the project, the club said it wanted to re-direct field rentals into a soccer complex that it controlled.

Thursday night, board member Carla Piluso suggested contracting with a professional fundraiser to solicit donations.

“The bond campaign showed we are not experts at this … we need to find someone who is,” she said.

While in the past the cost of artificial surface fields could be controversial, board chairman Matt O’Connell said their wide use over the years now generates “a lot of community support.”

Dan Chriestenson asked “What’s the worse case scenario if we don’t so something soon,”

“Closure,” Schofield replied.