Rachelle Stein-Wotten

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Gabriola Sounder

Regional District of Nanaimo staff say they hear the community’s frustration about sports field access on Gabriola and are working to bring improvement proposals to the parks and open spaces advisory committee.

The Electoral Area B POSAC received a status update at their Feb. 12 meeting from RDN staff about work proposed for Rollo McLay Community Park sports fields as well as delegations from residents concerned about the situation.

Matt McLuckie and D’Arcy Boulton, representing the Gabriola Soccer Association, described how, with the Gabriola Elementary School field and Rollo fields closed, kids enrolled in programs have to travel off island for all games currently. They said they want support in having reliable field access on the island, suggesting land acquisition should be considered.

“We’re struggling with field space the last two or three winters and we’re hoping we can get some short- and long-term adjustments and improvements of both what we had and some new infrastructure,” Boulton said.

Gabriola Elementary is the primary field used by the soccer association’s 70+ participants, and the soccer association “has been in constant contact with them” to advocate for consistent space. Since its closure to community groups, “when we looked for other options, i.e. Rollo, we haven’t had much success there either,” McLuckie said.

Ronan O’Donovan, a member of the year-round Sunday Soccer Group, also spoke of improving access during winter months and suggested more staggered use between user groups could help solve the problem. O’Donovan also proposed the creation of a committee that could be consulted on field closure decisions.

RDN parks staff said a report will be presented to POSAC in May that outlines proposed recommendations for improving field conditions.

The 2024-28 financial plan has $270,000 of provincial growing communities funds allocated for the fields.

Currently RDN staff are working with a private company to collect “baseline data” on the field such as mapping out drainage and irrigation systems in the park, soil analysis and researching ways to improve conditions of the lower field. The upper field received a fraize mowing treatment before reseeding last spring, which RDN staff said was effective, though summer drought limited the grass’s ability to fill in.

Staff said given that the field has been unavailable for coming up on a year, it may not be the best option for the lower field.

“We hear the frustration of that,” RDN parks planner, Jordan Vander Klok, said.

Staff are considering other improvement options such as setting up a grass or gravel practice field where the current portable is, which is scheduled for removal in April. If grass, staff said there wouldn’t be capacity to irrigate it, while gravel would present limitations for play.

“Right now we’re running out of water at the beginning of July,” RDN manager of parks, Rick Daykin, said. The reservoir would need to be two to three times larger to have green grass year-round, staff estimated.

POSAC members also asked about the impact of having dogs on the fields and whether there was a policy related to that. Not currently, Daykin said, though said it would be advisable.

A policy would need to contemplate whether another open field space should be made available for dogs, Daykin added. The idea of an off-leash dog area on the island has come up during the Gabriola recreation and master plan process.

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