By Bernie Puchalski, St. Catharines Standard
Thursday, October 20, 2016 4:13:38 EDT PM
Thursday’s wet and rainy conditions were a perfect day for a ground-breaking announcement at the Niagara Falls Soccer Club’s clubhouse.
On a day when the fields at E.E. Michelson Park would have likely been too wet to play on, representatives of the Niagara Falls Soccer Club, the Niagara Catholic District School Board and the Niagara Foundation for Catholic Education gathered to announce an agreement to replace the grass on Michelson Field No. 1 with artificial turf. The land in question is owned partially by the Catholic board and the City of Niagara Falls.
“We are absolutely excited about this opportunity and, to get to a stage like this, there has to be a lot of communication, a lot of dialogue and a lot of trust,” NCDSB director of education John Crocco said.
The first of its kind agreement by the NCDSB, which still requires the City of Niagara Falls to agree to contribute $500,000 to the project, will see the following contributions to the project expected to cost between $850,000 and $1 million: a maximum $200,000 from the Niagara Falls Soccer Club; $200,000 from the Niagara Foundation for Catholic Education; and, hopefully, $100,000 from a donor in exchange for renaming rights for the field.
For its contribution, the soccer club will receive priority usage of the field without user fees when it’s not in use by the school board. The agreement would last until the turf field needs replacing.
“The city has already called and closed the field today and having a turf field gives us greater opportunities, longer hours, a longer season and the ability to run more programs and put more children on the field,” soccer club president Tim Chamberlain said.
The club runs programs year-round and once the snow flies, its teams move into gymnasiums and indoor facilities.
“This will also give us an earlier start when the weather lets us in March,” club vice-president Nick Montanaro said.
The $200,000 commitment will represent the largest capital campaign ever run by the soccer club.
“We have a capital campaign set in place right now, but we haven’t yet started our fundraising for it,” Chamberlain said. “We have people in place who have made verbal commitments and we didn’t want to jump the gun on it until all the documents were signed and in place.
“We do have some major parties ready to support us.”
Father Paul MacNeil, the chair of the NCDSB and the pastor at the nearby Our Lady of the Scapular Parish, expressed twofold gratitude for the club’s commitment.
“First, the Ministry of Education has been encouraging school boards and community organizations across Ontario to work cooperatively with each other and such cooperation as we witness today, is essential to a peaceful and prosperous community,” he said. “Secondly, as chair of Niagara Catholic, we put students first — not only in our local schools but all of our students throughout the community.”
Crocco echoed that sentiment.
“It goes back to the belief that our schools are community hubs,” he said.
Saint Paul is delighted to be the site of the proposed field.
“On behalf of the school and students, we couldn’t be more happier,” principal Brad Johnstone said. “We’re looking for a seamless integration with the Niagara Falls Soccer Club and it will be our field is your field. We already have a tremendous relationship with the club.”
The field already has bleachers, lighting and a score clock and the variation in price is related to what needs to be done for the field’s base.
The annual cost of maintaining the field is still one of the details that need to be resolved between the board, the city, and the club.
“It’s still nowhere near the maintenance that is required on a natural grass field,” Crocco said.
During rainy falls, some of the board’s football fields have been destroyed by games played when the fields are soggy. In past years, the Catholic board has spent between $100,000 and $150,000 in the summer repairing fields.
The $200,000 contribution from the foundation is part of a $1.4 million fundraising campaign it announced in September. The goal is to contribute $200,000 for an artificial turf field for each of the seven Catholic high schools in Niagara,
“It’s the wave of the future and the foundation is really excited about it, said Jim Marino, the foundation’s executive director.
Donations are tax-deductible and those interested should contact Marino at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Catholic board is hoping other groups will follow the lead of the Niagara Falls Soccer Club.
“We have reached out to partners and this is the first one that has come forward,” Crocco said. “We are here today to graciously accept their donation.”
Pending city approval, the groups are optimistic the field would be ready for play by the summer of 2017.
A report on the proposal is expected to be presented at Niagara Falls City Council Tuesday.