The Artificial Turf Field project is headed to the construction phase with council's decision to award two contracts at its June 5 meeting.
The contracts—one with TGK Irrigation Ltd. in the amount of $1,444,900, for construction of civil, lighting and landscaping services, and another with AstroTurf West Distributors Ltd. worth $571,000 for the supply, delivery and installation of artificial turf, shock pad and infill for the field—were awarded in a vote of 4-3, with Councillors Sue Maxwell, Jen Ford and Cathy Jewett voting against.
Before the deciding vote, Maxwell tried for the second time to push the issue to a referendum this fall.
Among her reasoning, Maxwell cited the cost coming out of reserves, the Whistler Youth Soccer Club's previously stated desire for not one but two pitches, its lack of fundraising to date, the full life-cycle costs of the project and a lack of true public engagement.
"It's completely untrue to say that there has been adequate public consultation on this project," Maxwell said. "I love soccer, but I just certainly never expected to be on a council where we were facing a decision (in which) we're actually going to contract a company named AstroTurf in a community where we're pursuing sustainability.
"It's not about my opinion and how I feel about this, it's about good process ... it's money that Whistler taxpayers saved for future municipal works, and I'm not sure that this is what they had envisioned, so I urge you all not to rush into this project that needs additional steps (and) consideration before proceeding."
Maxwell's motion to defer the project, supported by Ford, was defeated.
In responding, Coun. John Grills noted other clubs have not been asked to fundraise for amenities and that the need for the field has been proven.
"It has been in the budget, the very public budget, for three years ... it's time to make a decision and not defer it," Grills said. "I will be voting in favour of this project as I have each time in the past. In doing so, I would also like to think I am honouring a promise I made to (late Whistler councillor) Andrée Janyk, who was a staunch supporter of this project, and an ambassador for Whistler's soccer community for many years," he added, fighting back tears.
Ford took issue with Grills bringing up Janyk, who passed away last summer.
"That was low. Bringing Andrée into this ... that was not fair," Ford said. "I've given this a great deal of thought, and this is not black and white. This is not against soccer or children or any of that, but one of the tenets of this council is to balance fiscal prudence. This does not address some of our community-wide pressures, and we've been asked to reduce our use of plastics. This does not reduce our use of plastics."
In a thorough report to council, staff addressed concerns raised by the public in regards to the project—the main one relating to crumb rubber infill, and potential negative effects to human health and the environment.
Rather than go with a crumb rubber infill made from recycled tires, council opted for a Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE) with sand infill—a food-safe product widely used in the medical industry.
The TPE requires less maintenance and topping up than other infill options, can be completely reused in a new field at the end of its lifespan, and is also less "migratory" than crumb rubber, meaning fewer turf particles end up in the natural environment.
Further to the last point, the RMOW proposes a number of mitigation factors, including a raised perimeter around the field, boot brushes and educational signage at all access and egress gates and an overland drainage system.
The $2,015,900 is within the $2,815,000 that was budgeted from General Capital Reserves for the project in the 2018-2022 Five Year Financial Plan, and well below a previously approved budget of $4,153,000 (based on an average of seven different project scenarios).
The annual operating budget for the field (including infill top-up, fuel, supplies, equipment maintenance and more) is estimated at around $25,960. In comparison, Whistler's grass fields cost about $20,000 annually to operate, and the arena at the Meadow Park Sports Centre costs taxpayers about $600,000 a year (not including repairs and capital replacement).
The RMOW expects the field to have a lifespan of up to 15 years.
The project was first envisioned in 2008 with the development of Bayly Park, said PJ O'Heany, president of the Whistler Youth Soccer Club (WYSC).
"This specific project has been going for us since 2013, so it's been a five-year trip to get here," O'Heany said. "To have something that we know all day long, every day, is going to be consistent, is going to be a safe place to go, to work, to play, we can bank on it ... it's going to be fantastic."
With the project's approval, the WYSC will launch a fundraising effort to "add value" to the field, O'Heany said, noting that the club has come up with several ideas to raise funds
"Whether or not that goes directly to the pitch or whether that goes to other facilities or other things, we don't know exactly where the municipality will want the money to be spent in adding value to the project," he said. "We want to make sure we look at the whole project and make sure that it's working for everybody and then we'll contribute as much as we can."
The club expects to raise between $100,000 and 150,000 for the field in addition to annual user fees.
The Whistler Blackcomb Foundation has also expressed interest in supporting the project, as have artificial turf suppliers and local contractors.