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Planned athletic field upgrades will add playing space on Vashon

The historic 1919 gym next to The Harbor School was taken down this month. - Leslie Brown/staff photo
The historic 1919 gym next to The Harbor School was taken down this month.
— image credit: Leslie Brown/staff photo

Athletes on Vashon have long scrambled to share space on the Island's few sports fields, some of which are poorly maintained or too small for certain sports.

But soon, an ambitious project may give those overused fields some relief by expanding and dramatically improving the fields next to The Harbor School.

Vashon Park District has been awarded more than $500,000 in grants from the state and county to overhaul the two baseball fields at the facility north of town, turning them into irrigated multisport fields that can be used for baseball, soccer, softball, football and lacrosse.

"There's really been no expanded field space on the Island since 1970," said Vashon Park District board member David Hackett, a member of the committee that has been planning the fields' future for several years. "The goal is to add some nice, big, playable fields there, hopefully with lights."

The improved fields will serve thousands of Islanders directly or indirectly, he said — from those who will use the new fields to those who will be able to use the other fields on the Island more freely.

Staff hope to begin an overhaul of the fields, located where Vashon Elementary School once stood, next spring, in a $1.1 million project that adds a well and irrigation system to the site while leveling and seeding the fields and reconfiguring them to better use the entirety of the space and accommodate full-field soccer, lacrosse and football. A historic gym next to the current athletic fields was torn down this month; a field will cover the footprint where the 1919 structure stood.

Park staff also hope to install lights to illuminate the fields at night if there is enough funding to do so, though lights will come after the leveling, irrigation and seeding of the fields.

If the park district secures further funding, staff hope to someday install a restroom, bleachers, walking track, basketball court and perhaps a play structure at the facility in the 15900 block of Vashon Highway.

The site is owned by Vashon Island School District but maintained by the park district, one of several school facilities the park district takes care of because park programs use them.

The fields "are pretty rough," Hackett said. They haven't been leveled since Vashon Park District began taking care of them because park staff have been anticipating the complete remodel of the park.

"It's just poorly laid out and designed," he said. "The proper soils are not in place; it has no irrigation; it hasn't been smoothed out so it's wavy."

The fields will fill a perennial need on the Island, Hackett said — more high-quality playing areas.

"We're overusing the McMurray and the high school stadium fields," he said. "Scheduling is difficult. If you go to McMurray any night, the fields are particularly busy, especially as you get into October and November."

Due to the overcrowding and overscheduling of Vashon's few playing fields, a group of Islanders began meeting more than five years ago to discuss improvements at Vashon Elementary School.

The park district secured $518,000 in grants from King County and the state Recreation and Conservation Office, has submitted other grant applications and plans to submit even more, said Wendy Braicks, the park district's executive director. Currently, after the grant funds and the $100,000 the park district has allotted to the fields project, the park district still needs almost $400,000 to complete the project, $250,000 of which Braicks anticipates will come from donations of labor, equipment and materials.

That leaves about $125,000 to be raised in cash, based on funding currently committed to the project. The park district is seeking small and large donors, and the various club sports that use Vashon's fields plan to hold fundraisers to support the project as much as they can.

"The groups that are going to use these fields have told us they're going to help fundraise, so we're counting on it," Braicks said.

Hackett concurred that community support will be important in the coming months.

"We've got to remember ... that parks just don't build themselves," he said.

The project has been stalled for several months, after staff discovered that The Harbor School's septic system sits just under one of the ball fields at the park. Park staff are hoping the county will allow the school to connect to its sewer system, which runs past the property. Ideally, if the school is permitted to connect to the local sewer system, the septic field will be safely abandoned as is and the fields project can move forward.

"You can't run heavy machines over it," Braicks said — staff can't do drainage or irrigation work with an active septic system under one of the athletic fields.

Park officials hope the septic issue will be resolved this year so the project can break ground in the spring. The fields will then be upgraded, which should take a month or two, and then grass will be planted; a year after the planting, the fields will be mature enough for athletic use, Hackett said.

He added that he's looking forward to getting the ball rolling on a project that he believes will benefit the entire community.

"I feel great about this," he said. "We're trying to get some great things done on the Island and improve our community by addressing those (athletic field) needs. I think this is a whole Island kind of project."

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