Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

SoccerPlex to kick it up with synthetic fields

Three new fields didn’t make the start of the fall season, but are nearly complete

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Naomi Brookner⁄The Gazette
An installation crew with Doc Turf (from left) Milton Alegria, Adolfo Hernandez, Aracely Alvardo and Joel Campos work on laying part of the drainage system for the new artificial-turf fields at the Maryland SoccerPlex.
After some delays, the Maryland SoccerPlex will unveil three new artificial-turf fields by the end of September, one year after funding for the project was initially approved.

‘‘It’s coming in a little later than we hoped,” Trish Heffelfinger, executive director of the nonprofit Maryland Soccer Foundation, operator of the SoccerPlex, said last week. ‘‘We would’ve hoped to have it by the start of the fall season,” which began over the weekend.

The synthetic-turf fields will enable the park to accommodate more games, and nine new light fixtures will allow for nighttime play, she said. The SoccerPlex will be able to host 4,000 games and practices a year, up from the current 3,000.

‘‘I think it’s certainly going to add another dimension to what’s going on there,” Rick Heilman, president of the Gaithersburg-based Seneca Soccer Association, said last week. ‘‘... We always run into light problems.”

The facility’s grass stadium is currently the only field at the SoccerPlex with lighting, Heffelfinger said. The three synthetic fields will be the first artificial fields in the county not located not at a school, she said.

The SoccerPlex, situated on 166 acres of county-owned land at the South Germantown Recreational Park in Boyds, opened in 2000 as a public-private venture owned by the foundation.

The county Planning Board approved more than $1 million to upgrade the facility in September 2006. The foundation will also use a $2.53 million private grant received in 2005 to help finance the fields.

The fields were originally expected to open in time for the start of the spring soccer season in March, but county review of the stormwater management plan and permitting delays pushed that date to June, the month that construction eventually began, Heffelfinger said.

‘‘There’s time associated with every step of the way,” Heffelfinger said of the process. ‘‘All of us feel like our plan is the most important.”

At $800,000 per field, Heffelfinger said, the artificial turf is more expensive to install than grass, which costs $320,000. However, the artificial turf can be used year-round and during the week because it won’t suffer as much wear and tear as the SoccerPlex’s 19 grass fields, which are only used on the weekends.

‘‘I can play it in the dead of winter,” Heffelfinger said. ‘‘It really adds to your available capacity.”

The new light fixtures cost about $100,000 per field, she said.

The synthetic fields each cost $10,000 a year to maintain, $15,000 less than grass fields. They are expected to eventually add $700,000 a year in revenue, she said.

‘‘It’ll probably take us a while to get to that point, so we’re going to kick into high gear with marketing as soon as they’re ready,” she said.

The artificial fields will also be available for sports that are too rough on grass, such as rugby and lacrosse, Heffelfinger said, and the SoccerPlex is hosting a flag football league on the new fields this fall.

Work will begin on the SoccerPlex’s last two fields in about a year, Heffelfinger said, though it has yet to be determined whether they will be grass or artificial turf.