Nearly 200 residents from across the county attended a recent town hall meeting hosted by the Board of County Supervisors to help the Board and the County’s Parks and Recreation Department understand how residents perceive the availability and quality of athletic fields and park space in Prince William County.
The Parks and Recreation Department gave a brief needs assessment presentation, which showed that the County’s 357 public fields supported nearly 29,000 athletes annually with another 25 basketball courts supporting 2,069 players a year.
There were a number of residents present, who participate in adult league sports, requesting more field use. There were also those seeking more passive recreation opportunities. However, the majority of attendees were parents and children seeking more athletic field space, more turf fields, and lighted fields for youth sports activities.
Primary needs identified by the audience were artificial turf fields and lights. Attendees spoke about the problems with rescheduling rainouts, lack of practice during late fall and early spring, and fields lying dormant to “rest,” which prevents practice and game opportunities on the grass fields throughout the county. Another major concern raised was lack of adequate restroom facilities and parking at existing fields in the County.
Attendees expressed frustration that when traveling to neighboring jurisdictions they play on lighted turf fields and high school stadiums that are superior to the fields played on in Prince William.
County officials noted that during the last budget session, the Board of County Supervisors accepted the responsibility for Parks to improve and maintain elementary and middle school fields. Already, this initiative has increased field quality and broadened public use on those fields. They are now in discussions with Prince William County Schools to see how the County can increase scheduled use on high school fields.
While placing artificial turf on high school fields and opening them up to community use was a major theme, there was also the realization that the growing demand for field space cannot be satisfied by high school use alone.
Some who spoke during the meeting said they would support a bond referendum to pay for the cost of improving fields while others talked about trying to get corporate sponsors and charging additional league fees to support the development and maintenance of new fields.
Corey Stewart, Chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, suggested that it was going to take a combination of funding sources to pay for improvements to existing fields and build new ones. “It’s going to take a portfolio of funds. It’s not just going to come from government. We’re going to need your help in terms of fees. We’re going to be seeking corporate sponsorship,” Stewart said. “We have to come together and figure out a strategy to meet the growing demands for field and park use in Prince William County.”
Stewart went on to say that the need for fields is important to the quality of life of Prince William residents. “We’re the second largest county in the commonwealth. We have a young population. The average age in Prince William County is 33 years old. We’ve got to build more athletic facilities and improve existing facilities, improve capacity for virtually every sport and we’ve got to be able to do that by working together.”
As the meeting proceeded, the Parks Department staff collected notes on the suggestions from the audience, which Stewart said they would use to help compile a report, which the department will submit to the Board on County Supervisors during their meeting on Nov. 26, 2013.
Stewart said the board would then draft a strategy for solving the problems and look to the public for guidance on how to proceed. “Once we have drafted a strategy, a plan to address these needs, we want to send it to you for your input. Once we’ve received that, we can finalize it and get to work and at least get started in the right direction.”