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Mill Creek still considering sports fields’ options

The City of Mill Creek and the Everett School District came very close to finalizing a joint venture to share the cost and the use of an all-weather multi-purpose sports field at Jackson High School.
Proposed Jackson High School all weather sports field. Image credit: City of Mill Creek.

There is no question that there is a high demand for sports fields in south Snohomish County. Organized adult and youth teams for soccer, baseball, softball, lacrosse, and even croquette are looking for places to play.

The City of Mill Creek and the Everett School District came very close to finalizing a joint venture to share the cost and the use of an all-weather multi-purpose sports field at Jackson High School.

City staff and school district staff had at least a dozen meetings over three years to develop a 20-year 50/50 partnership that would have allowed school district use of the field during the day, and city use of the field after school and during school holidays.

The City earmarked $1.165 million in community park mitigation funds collected over the years for the project.

However, at their May 6, 2014, regular meeting, a majority of Mill Creek City Councilmembers decided to have staff explore options for developing one or more sports fields on the City’s land north of the Mill Creek Sports Park.

One of the reasons councilmembers had for exploring other options was the failure of the Everett School District construction bond in the April 22nd election. Full funding of the Jackson High School sports field renovation was part of this package.

Although Gary Cohn, Everett School District Superintendent, recently said that a Jackson High School field would receive all-weather renovation whether or not the bond passed, there is some doubt that the school district will move forward as quickly as they planned.

Mayor Pam Pruitt sees moving forward on the Everett School District joint venture as “giving up” on the concept of expanding the Mill Creek Sports Park. She hopes that the City can find outside funding someday that will make the expansion possible.

Councilmember Brian Holtzclaw isn’t willing to wait one to five years to get another sports field for Mill Creek. He said he hopes there is a way to build at least one sports field on the City’s land north of the Mill Creek Sports Park with the $1.165 million in mitigation funds the City has saved over the years for this purpose.

Holtzclaw said he wants city staff to spend three to six months exploring construction and funding options. He hopes that if they discover the construction of a new sport field isn’t possible, the Everett School District will still be ready to partner.

Tom Gathmann, Mill Creek Public Works Director, said that city staff doesn’t have the expertise to perform the required construction cost analysis. He said that one of the City’s on-call consultants could do the work, but it would cost about $20,000 for this work to be done.

Councilmember Mark Bond was on the Mill Creek City Council when they bought the land north of the Mill Creek Sports Park and said he has “perspective on this issue.”

Bond doesn’t believe that it is possible to build one sports field with the required restrooms, concession stand, and parking on the somewhat hilly land for $2 million. He said that he didn’t think that if there is a current need for another all-weather sports field in Mill Creek that the joint venture with the school district is the way to go.

Councilmember Donna Michelson is wholeheartedly ready to partner with the school district to give Mill Creekers another place to play. She observed that the joint venture gives Mill Creek 60% use of the field for 50% of the cost. She said that it will be very difficult to find matching funds from other sources and doesn’t want to lose the opportunity to team with the school district to get a new sports field this year.

Councilmember Mike Todd agreed with Bond that it will cost more than $2 million to build an additional sports field on the City’s property. He said he doesn’t want the city to spend more money on studies and that he believes the joint venture could have been a pilot project for shared use of additional Everett School District sports fields.

Todd says that he would like to hear what the Everett school board is going to do in their current circumstance. He said he suspects that they will say the time is not now to go ahead with the joint venture.

Councilmember Mark Harmsworth suggested that they talk with a local Boys and Girls Club about a joint venture to build a sports field on the City property. He said he is not against the Everett School District joint venture, but wants to explore other options.

Todd commented that a joint venture with the Boys and Girls Club would not be as beneficial as that with the Everett School District because the City and the Boys and Girls Club would have to share the use of the field at the same after-school time. He said that this would mean less revenue for field maintenance.

The Mill Creek City Council ended their discussion with no clear action plan other than wait and see what the Everett School Board decides to do.



Clarification: the Community gets nearly all the time it can use

A clarification: The Community needs active use sports fields in the evenings and on weekends; the school needs fields during school hours and for after school sports. The two needs only have a slight overlap in hours of usage, and the artificial turf is made to stand up to continuous usage. The partnership is nearly ideal: the school gets 100% of their needs covered and the city/community gets 95+% of their needs covered with one field project, with the schools and the city splitting the cost 50/50 for construction, maintenance, and long term replacement. The statement in the article that the city gets 60% use of the field is that 60% of the total annual usage hours would be used by the city/community, and 40% by the school - but both parties get essentially 100% of their needs covered. This is a perfect sharing opportunity - we each get full use of it when the other party doesn't really need it.

This project is also a very efficient use of public funds and scarce land. It IMPROVES an existing field to allow unlimited use regardless of weather (the current sod field is restricted in hours of use due to wet weather and drainage issues). It makes use of existing property dedicated to fields, with existing infrastructure (e.g. parking, sidewalks, and restrooms). A NEW field on city property requires all new infrastructure (grading, drainage systems, parking, roadway frontage improvements, sidewalks, plus the field itself) which will come at a higher cost, AND "uses up" land that could be used for another municipal purpose, trade, or sale. Building two fields on the $5M city parcel was estimated to cost $9.4M; for less than one tenth of that total cost, the city can satisfy the need for one field at Jackson HS, and lay the foundation for future partnerships to jointly improve more fields as well when both parties have funds to do so..

The most cost effective place for additional athletic fields in Mill Creek is where the public already owns them (Jackson and Heatherwood); partnering to IMPROVE them to stand up to additional use is a smarter way to go than going it alone to build and maintain NEW fields that will see little use when kids are in school anyway. Tell the city if you agree.

Mike Todd