City approves Memorial Field design contract

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

It again fell to Mayor Shelby Rognstad to break a tie Nov. 20, as the Sandpoint City Council considered whether to approve a design contract for major changes to War Memorial Field. 

A concept drawing depicting the new Memorial Field featuring artificial turf and expanded parking. Courtesy City of Sandpoint.

The vote turned on hiring Bernardo Wills Architects for design services, including construction bids, for the installation of artificial turf and a range of facilities projects at Memorial Field. 

Council members John Darling, Tom Eddy and Deb Ruehle voted in favor of awarding the $300,000 contract, while Council members Bill Aitken, Joel Aispuro and Council President Shannon Williamson voted “nay.” Rognstad broke the tie, stating, “Yes. Motion passed.”

The Nov. 20 decision mirrored the one made Oct. 16, when the council engaged in nearly three hours of public testimony and discussion on the overall plan, which calls for artificial turf on a combination soccer/football/lacrosse field as well as new baseball and softball fields. Other plans include expanded parking, improved boat launch and waterside boardwalk, a new restroom and east entry plaza, new softball grandstands, a batting cage and bullpen.

The contract approved Nov. 20, which will be paid for by the 1% local option tax, stipulated that only surfaces such as cork, coconut or a combination of the two would be considered and that former Festival at Sandpoint Production Manager Dave Nygren be included as a subconsultant to make sure the Festival’s logistical needs are taken into account and included in the final design. 

According to the resolution, Bernardo Wills is to begin design services immediately, with the final design completed by February 2020 and a subsequent construction contract to be awarded in March 2020. 

Total cost for the project — including construction and all other related services — is not to exceed $4.35 million and work is scheduled to ensure the field is ready for The Festival at Sandpoint by July 31, 2020. The surface is set to be playable in August 2020.

Though the October meeting drew dozens of community members to testify, only four area residents turned out Nov. 20 to weigh in on the contract — all opposed to its approval and appealing to the council to pull back on its earlier decision to move forward with the Memorial Field concept as presented.

Chris Bessler, owner of Keokee Publishing and co-owner of the Reader, asked the council to reconsider the site plan, calling its approval “rushed” and lacking the appropriate amount of time for public comment.

“I’m not convinced that the council members received or had a chance to study that [plan] prior to the Oct. 16 vote,” he said, citing workshop and survey feedback data showing only 23.7% of respondents supported artificial turf at the field and 3% ranked it as a top priority among potential improvements there.

Bessler told the council that if the 1% local option tax approved in 2015 to build the grandstands at Memorial Field had been presented at the time as grandstands construction combined with artificial turf resurfacing, “I can say categorically that it would not have passed.” He cautioned council members that if “if you disenfranchise voters who are unhappy about how artificial turf was rushed through, you will not get 60%” approval to renew the five-year LOT in 2020.

Rick Howarth, representing a south Sandpoint neighborhood group, focused on the effect of stadium lights, increased traffic and noise on the surrounding residents. What’s more, he asked the council why, despite these “easily identifiable negative impacts,” neighbors were not given a letter or postcard advising them of the breadth of the changes to be potentially approved at the Oct. 16 meeting. 

“Not everyone takes a paper, not everyone goes to your website, not everyone follows you on Facebook,” he said. 

“There is nothing that requires you tonight to approve this contract,” he later added, asking that it be be put “on the back burner” long enough to reassess the broader impacts and allow for a comparison between artificial and natural turf at the field — the main argument made by Council President Williamson in October when she asked to hold off on the vote in order to gather data showing the costs of retaining natural grass versus installing turf.

Fellow Sandpoint resident Iris Harrison also asked the council to reconsider.

“The impact to the neighborhood in my opinion would be very outsized for what an old residential neighborhood can handle,” she said. “Every event that’s held there comes into my home.”

Finally, Sandpoint resident Deborah Staggs zeroed in on the amount of notice and time residents had to review the plan prior to the vote, saying the first time she heard of the Memorial Field concept was less than a week before it went to the council.

“I think we need more time. This was not presented as a sports complex, it was presented as artificial or natural turf,” she said. “How come we didn’t get letters? How come we didn’t get a letter on our door as if the neighbor down the street wants to change his porch? We all got a letter. How come we didn’t get something like that for Memorial Field?”

The Nov. 20 resolution noted that while discussions touching on the potential for artificial turf at Memorial Field dated back to 2015 with a cost study — followed by two public meetings and a council workshop in 2018 — “the efforts … did not produce a clear committee or community consensus relative to turf preference.” Aside from that outreach, the city also hosted a series of open houses and presentation on the Parks and Rec Master Plan, including the Memorial Field concepts, during the summer.

That said, the resolution added, concerns expressed throughout the discussion process included limited access and playability at the field related to poor weather and recovery time needed after incidents of heavy usage such as The Festival. 

Replacing the natural grass field with artificial turf and incorporating improvements to the parking lot and boat ramp facilities will “maximize usability of the park space, including water access/recreation and … reduce impacts on the neighborhood,” according to the resolution.

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