PORTSMOUTH – The city’s Recreation Board has endorsed a plan to begin work on a multi-field complex near Community Campus that will help address the “dramatic need” for more playing fields in Portsmouth.
Rus Wilson, the city’s Recreation Director, said the board voted late last week to recommend that the City Council move forward with what is now an estimated $4 million project at the Community Campus site.
“Carl Diemer, chairman of the Rec board, said we haven’t built a new field in Portsmouth in 50 years and it probably goes back longer than that,” Wilson said early Monday afternoon, as he showed a Portsmouth Herald reporter and photographer the Community Campus site. “There’s just no land. We were real fortunate … that they were willing to sell this land to us.”
The City Council in 2016 approved a deal to buy a total of 50 acres of land near the Community Campus property for $1,850,000. The land purchase is not included in the project's $4 million price tag.
About 16 acres of the property will ultimately be used for three large regulation artificial turf playing fields and a smaller under 10 field.
The City Council last week voted unanimously to ask the Recreation Board to recommend moving forward either with a single multi-use field off Route 33 at the former stump dump, known as Option A, or instead try to begin work on the multi-field site near the Community Campus, which is Option B.
The Recreation Board voted unanimously to go with Option B, Wilson said.
“I think the smart move is to start here,” Wilson said Monday, after driving down what is now a dirt road to the site near the Community Campus. “Whether it takes a few years, five years, 10 years to complete the whole project, at least you’ve started.”
He believes the estimated $4 million needed for Option B will pay for the first regulation size field, the smaller Under 10 field, several hundred parking spaces, all the paving needed for the site, along with “all the lighting.”
There are a couple of large dirt piles at the site now, but the land where the fields will be is relatively flat and appears to have been cleared at one point.
“The good thing is you’re not disturbing any neighbors with lights or noise or traffic,” Wilson said Monday. “It’s not like you have to move mountains or cut trees or anything major like that.”
He noted that at the stump dump site off the busy Route 33, “there’s no room for expansion.”
“There’s barely enough room to get the one field in,” Wilson said. “Here there’s plenty of room for expansion.”
The City Council is expected to vote on which option to take at its May 21 meeting, Wilson said.
“If the City Council approved the money on May 21, we’d start the engineering right away and you could probably start construction in six months to a year,” Wilson said. “Then the construction would probably take six months.”
Demand from teams to use the city’s playing fields has increased dramatically, but there have not been any new fields built for at least half a century, Wilson said.
The fastest growing sport in the city is lacrosse, he said.
“We never had to account for it at all. Now, not only do you have to account for a new sport, but they’re playing it from five to six years old right on to adults,” Wilson said. “It’s crazy how big lacrosse is.”
During a visit to the site on Monday, Wilson smiled before recounting a phone call he received from a Portsmouth mom asking him what kind of organized recreation activities the city offered 2-year-olds.
“I made her repeat it, because I thought she said a 2-year-old,” Wilson said. “And she said ‘I did say a 2-year-old.’”
If the council votes to move forward with the Community Campus site, there are a “million options” about what to do with the Route 33 site, Wilson said.
“You could sell the property and use the money to help fund this, or use it for another city function,” Wilson said. “Right now while it’s just sitting there you could throw some seed down and there’s one more field you can practice on.”
Whatever option the council chooses, it’s clear that they will have to find more money for either plan.
Department of Public Works Director Peter Rice said the city has $2.4 million to spend on the project, but both Option A and B are more expensive.
Mayor Jack Blalock has previously said he hopes the city might be able to find a donor to kick in some money for the multi-field project.
“We could offer some naming rights,” Blalock said.
If they can’t find a donor, Blalock prefers bonding out for the additional money.
“I probably would be in favor of that because we have such a playing field deficit,” he said. “That seems like that would be the way to go because of our great bond rating. It would be such a benefit to the community.”
City Manager John Bohenko could not be reached for comment Monday on how the financing might work out.