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Ribfest is leading the charge for a turf upgrade at Esquimalt High School

Festival organizers are asking the township to match $1 million in community fundraising for an artificial field

By Michael John Lo
March 1, 2023
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Ribfest is leading the charge for a turf upgrade at Esquimalt High School

Festival organizers are asking the township to match $1 million in community fundraising for an artificial field

A number of community associations are looking to replace Esquimalt High School's playing field, often closed in inclement weather, with an artificial turf in line with other municipalities in Greater Victoria. Photo: Tori Marlan / Capital Daily
A number of community associations are looking to replace Esquimalt High School's playing field, often closed in inclement weather, with an artificial turf in line with other municipalities in Greater Victoria. Photo: Tori Marlan / Capital Daily
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Ribfest is leading the charge for a turf upgrade at Esquimalt High School

Festival organizers are asking the township to match $1 million in community fundraising for an artificial field

By Michael John Lo
March 1, 2023
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Ribfest is leading the charge for a turf upgrade at Esquimalt High School
A number of community associations are looking to replace Esquimalt High School's playing field, often closed in inclement weather, with an artificial turf in line with other municipalities in Greater Victoria. Photo: Tori Marlan / Capital Daily

Esquimalt’s Ribfest is asking for the township to match $1 million in community contributions gathered over the last decade to build a turf field at Esquimalt High School that would become the community’s first all-weather playing field.

The move would put Esquimalt’s recreation facilities on par with the rest of Greater Victoria’s urban municipalities, many of which have multiple turf fields.

Ribfest committee chair Tom Woods, along with other supporters of the project, made their case to council Monday night.

About 35% of Gorge Soccer Association’s 1,650 members are from Esquimalt, said association president Aaron Walker-Duncan, who spoke in support of the proposal at council.

“We have a real challenge in finding good, all-weather field space,” Walker-Duncan said. The club’s membership continues to grow, and it’s becoming harder to find  playing spaces for the community, he added.

Oak Bay has three turf fields despite having a similar population, Woods said in his letter to council.

“It just seems like sometimes on this side of the tracks, you don’t get the facilities that I would love to see the kids have,” Woods told Capital Daily. “I’d like to see our kids stay in our community for the whole year and get outdoor activity here."

The Esquimalt Ribfest, which is held annually in Bullen park and draws thousands of visitors from across the Capital Region, has been raising funds for a new turf since the festival launched 10 years ago.

Woods grew up playing soccer at Bullen Park. He remembers waking up early on Saturdays, waiting for the 9am phone call that would let him know if the fields would be open that day. But more often than not, soggy winters meant unplayable, water-saturated fields.

“You ended up at home watching cartoons rather than going out and getting exercise,” he  said.

Currently, Esquimalt athletes have to travel to neighboring municipalities when the fields are closed, as there are no alternatives inside the township. Esquimalt’s municipal fields have closed due to weather for six weeks so far this year.

Already, $1 million has been raised for the project between the Gorge Soccer Association, the James Bay Athletic Association, and Ribfest, per Wood’s letter to council.

“I’ve been in Esquimalt my whole life,” Woods said. “I’ve never heard of a community group stepping up to the plate with a million dollars for recreational facilities.”

While council didn’t commit to the request on Monday night, the township’s staff are preparing a report for the budget request as part of an Esquimalt strategic initiative. Two councillors spoke in approval of the project.

“We are the only municipality in the core that doesn’t have a year-round field,” said Coun. Ken Armour. “It’s just not fair to our kids.”

Coun. Darlene Rotchford noted that a local turf field would reduce car trips, improving safety and emission levels.

Mayor Barb Desjardins said that upgrading the field was a strategic initiative for  the previous council, where she was also mayor. The town had supported an unsuccessful 2019 provincial and federal infrastructure grant in which the Songhees Nation was the principal applicant, along with the Greater Victoria School District (SD61) and a number of community associations, including Ribfest.

According to Wood, the grant was unsuccessful partially because they didn’t solidify   the necessary legal agreements between applicants.  

“Unfortunately, we didn’t know that,” he said. “We had lots of agreements in principle, but that was not enough to get the funding.”

Woods is now hoping BC’s newly announced Growing Communities Fund(a $1 billion funding boost to municipalities) will encourage Esquimalt to allocate money for the turf project. The money from that fund can be used for a variety of amenities, including recreational facilities and parks. .

Turf upgrades have become a frequent request in recent years. The Peninsula Soccer Association has been asking the three Saanich Peninsula municipalities for $1.3 million to build turf fields at Blue Heron Park since 2020. North Saanich has committed $647,000 to the effort, with Sidney and Central Saanich yet to make a funding decision. Sooke’s artificial turf field was completed in 2017 with $1 million in support from the Capital Regional District and the District of Sooke.

The region is slated to have two new fields this year. Victoria is on track  to complete construction for their Topaz Park field this spring—part of an $8-million upgrade to the park that includes the building of a new skateboard park and bike park. At a planned elementary school site in Langford, the city is installing second-hand turf from Vancouver’s BC place stadium that will be play-ready while they wait for funding to build the school, also set to be completed this spring, according to the Times Colonist.

Now, it’s Esquimalt’s turn to try and bring a turf field home. “It’s a bit of a long shot,” Wood admits of his request. But he figures that it was at least worth a try. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” he said.

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