Youngsters from the Boys and Girls Club play soccer on one of several fields at Kenai Middle School several years ago. The city of Kenai is exploring an option to develop additional fields at the northern edge of town.
Clarion file photo by M. Scott M
A plan to turn a large tract of vacant Kenai land into a complex of soccer fields appears to have legs.
Kenai Parks and Recreation Director Bob Frates said last month that the city is in line to receive a $251,548 Land and Water Conservation Fund Grant from the Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation. The grant is actually from the federal government, but passed through the state. On Monday, Frates said the preliminary grant process has gone well.
"It does look good," he said.
Frates said the city's proposal ranked second on a list of projects for funding, meaning it ranks as one of the highest priorities. However, the ranking does not guarantee the city any money.
"We become eligible to submit a full application," Frates said.
At today's regular meeting, the city council is set to have a first reading of an ordinance that will rezone a portion of a 53-acre parcel of city land located adjacent to the Kenai Spur Highway also known as "site 36" near the borough's solid transfer facility for recreational use. The move is needed to go forward with the fields project.
Although a final plan has yet to be decided upon, Frates said the plan is to construct four soccer fields and a parking lot at the site.
There is one catch, however. The state grant requires that the city come up with a $310,679 match, of which a portion can come from "in-kind" donations. Frates said the total cost of the project is expected to come in at a little more than $500,000.
Soccer fields in Kenai have become a high priority in the recreation community over the past decade as the sport has exploded in popularity. Frates said more than 1,000 young people between the ages of 4 and 19 participated in soccer last summer between the Boys and Girls Club's program and the Kenai Peninsula Soccer Club's competition teams.
"It's pretty amazing when you look at the numbers," Frates said.
Games currently are held at fields adjacent to Kenai Middle School, at Mountain View Elementary, Skyview High School and on city land at Millennium Square. However, parking can be a major headache at the middle school, and the city has plans to develop the Millennium Square property in the near future.
In addition, Boys and Girls Club Athletics Director Kathy Ehrhardt said a big issue is field maintenance. Because fields need time to recover from the constant use, some fields can't be used at certain times during the summer.
"The school district has started to do a little more upkeep on their fields during the summer," she said.
Ehrhardt said the fields simply can't take the punishment dished out by countless games and practices.
"They have to rehab sometime," she said.
Frates said there is an obvious need for more fields, especially considering the growth soccer has seen in the area over the past few years.
"The big question is how much is it going to continue to grow and where are you going to put those people," he said.
Although soccer fields are the primary focus of the current plan, Frates said other uses for the large tract of land could be considered in the future.
"This whole strip of property could become a whole recreational complex," he said.
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