Driving past an empty school athletic field in the evenings can be frustrating for Dan Slott.
The Forsyth County Parks and Recreation board member knows that the fields at county parks have reached capacity for youth sports during the busy season.
“It’s all taxpayer money. These are fields that have been bought by taxpayers and these are unused and these are overused,” Slott said Monday night during the board’s meeting.
“If [Forsyth County and the school system] can come together to help balance the need, then I think everybody wins.”
A field with turf can withstand more use, and so a cooperative agreement would allow schools to use it during the day and the county after 6 p.m., as is the case with Joint Venture Park at Daves Creek.
The concept of sharing field space has been a popular topic for years among families participating in youth sports, but as Slott put it “the devil is in the details.”
For the county programs to play in the evenings, the fields must have lights and access to restrooms. The county and school must work out who will cover those costs and who will be responsible for maintenance and utilities.
The board debated where to spend the department’s limited funds to upgrade local rectangle fields to artificial turf after receiving interest this month from Lambert and South Forsyth high schools about a joint venture for a practice field.
Members decided in February to prioritize three or four existing county park fields for an upgrade to turf using the remaining $1.5 million in 1-cent sales tax funding.
After nearly an hour of discussion Monday night, the board voted 3-2, with Gary Cooper and Steve Dabbs opposed, to proceed with adding turf to the priority list of county fields, but also to open up discussions with the county’s five public high schools.
Dabbs felt putting the money toward county parks that need the upgrade would be “a better use of our funds.”
Each field upgrade is estimated to cost about $450,000 and adding lights costs about $100,000 more.
Member Kimberly Brown said the county shouldn’t contribute more than $450,000, since they could add turf to one of the park fields for the same price and have full control over the use.
To gauge interest and commitment, the board recommended asking schools if they were willing to pay for lights if the county provided the field upgrade.
Without enough funding to add turf at all five high schools, board chairman Todd Holbrook said he wasn’t comfortable extending an offer.
“I think if we partner with all five schools and do it all at one time, you’re going to make the community happy in all five areas,” Holbrook said. “We need to make sure that the money is there for it [first].
“If every school gets wind of this, and all five come in and all five agree to the same thing, we can’t fund five fields.”
He added that the prioritized fields at Coal Mountain, Sawnee Mountain and another field at Joint Venture Park should move forward as soon as possible in hopes of getting the turf installed before the busy fall season.
Talks to work out the details with schools will take longer, Holbrook said.
“We’ve got $1.5 million. We’ve got three fields we want to turf. Let’s turf them,” he said. “If we keep waiting around, it’ll be fall and winter again and we’ll be right here again.”
He asked that those three fields go before county commissioners as soon as possible to get the ball rolling for installation in June and July.