New artificial turf won’t cost student fee increase

Back Campus lovers can soon say goodbye to muddy shoes and blotchy grasses if a capital project to install artificial turfs is approved by the Governing Council next month.

The St. George Back Campus Fields Project, with an estimated cost of $10 million, would see the entire Back Campus, an area enclosed by Hoskin Avenue, Hart House, and University College, excavated and layered with synthetic surfaces similar to the ones used by the Varsity Stadium. The fields would be laid out according to International Hockey Federation guidelines, which would allow U of T to host national championships.

“U of T has an incredibly strong and rich history in field hockey. It would be great to revitalize that sport here,” said Anita Comella, assistant dean of co-curricular physical activity and sport from the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education.

Once completed, Back Campus would be the only double-turfed field hockey ground in Ontario. Other sports, such as soccer and lacrosse, can be played recreationally.

The proposed operation is part of the Toronto 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games and is jointly developed by U of T, Infrastructure Ontario, and the Toronto 2015 Organizing Committee. The federal and provincial governments will contribute to 56 per cent of the cost, and U of T is responsible for the remaining 44 per cent.

“We have never had, and likely will never have, an opportunity to pay 44 cents on a dollar for a capital construction project,” Comella said. “We found this project to be a great match for 2015 needs during the games and our needs as a legacy.

“Toronto 2015 is very focused on the legacy. They don’t want these games to just be building sports infrastructures and leaving them as white elephants in the community or tearing them down,” she said.

The project would not result in any student fee increase because extra revenues would be generated from renting the upgraded fields externally to community members, according to Comella. Currently, Back Campus is not available for external rental because of grass degradation. She added that most external rentals would take place during down time — such as Sunday mornings or summer semesters — when these fields are not in high demand by students or intramural teams.

Comella said U of T has always grappled with sports infrastructure deficit, with student access to sports facilities at about 66 per cent of the standard set by the Council of Ontario Universities. Switching Back Campus from natural grass to artificial turf would increase student access time threefold, as the synthetic surfaces are not season-sensitive.

The planning process for the St. George Back Campus Fields Project began when Toronto was drafting the bid book for the Pan/Parapan-Am Games. Back Campus, with its downtown location and proximity to the future Athletes’ Village, was picked over Front Campus because it provides the ideal location to have two fields side-by-side. Two games can be going on at the same or one field can be used for warm up.

The proposal was approved by the Planning and Budget Committee, the University Affairs Board, and the Academic Board in the past two months. The Governing Council will vote on it on April 11. Once approved, the project would take about a year to complete.

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