Rachelle Stein-Wotten

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Gabriola Sounder

With one or both of the sports fields at Rollo McLay Community Park closed for multiple months of last year due to poor field conditions, Regional District of Nanaimo staff are currently contemplating a number of improvements or enhancements.

Most recently both fields were closed in mid-December 2023 and will be until approximately March 15 on account of heavy precipitation leaving the fields saturated and soggy. The closure is an effort to prevent further decline of field conditions, staff say.

The 2024-28 financial plan approved by the RDN board of directors allocates $278,034 of one-time growing communities funding from the B.C. government to Rollo McLay sports fields improvements.

According to RDN parks manager Rick Daykin, options under review are upgrading the existing irrigation system such as expanding the water reservoir’s capacity, establishing a lower grassy area for additional space for user groups and making “general field improvements” to the two existing fields. Recommendations for projects will go to the board for decision-making.

Electoral Area B Director Vanessa Craig told the Sounder a report will be on the agenda for the next Area B parks and open spaces advisory committee meeting, scheduled for Feb. 12, “that will look at options with the goal of improving the ball fields for play and extending the season of use” using the growing communities funds.

User groups including the Gabriola Soccer Association have expressed a lack of suitable field space on the island. Groups like the Gabriola Slopitch Association, which uses the Rollo fields regularly, have brought forward concerns in years past on the safety of the fields, especially the outfields, because of uneven surfaces. In Spring 2023, the RDN spent extra dollars on top of the annual maintenance budget to ameliorate the fields. But a prolonged summer drought hampered the seed, a perennial rye grass mixture, from rooting strongly.

“Balancing use of the fields by all users while ensuring the fields remain in playable condition even with the issues of drought and wet weather can be challenging,” Craig said. According to the November 2023 engagement summary report for the Electoral Area B recreation and parks master plan, sports fields as well as multi-purpose indoor space, fitness/wellness facilities, arts and culture programming spaces and pickleball courts were frequently identified as gaps and potential infrastructure priorities during the initial round of engagement. About 8 per cent of survey respondents on Gabriola indicated they participate in outdoor field sports on a regular basis. Written in responses to barriers to participation in recreational opportunities included increasing outdoor field space on the island. Eleven per cent of Gabriola responses said grass on sports fields “should be more readily available or enhanced.”

Craig said the master plan “will help establish priorities, identify potential locations if new infrastructure/parks are added and inform budgets and work plans over the next several years.”

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