More playfields coming for Kent? City considers Kent-Meridian

Kent Knights Sweet Peas players line up for a hitting drill at Kent-Meridian High School’s practice fields Thursday. The fields may be getting an upgrade – and more use – as the city of Kent seeks more space for local teams.  - Charles Cortes, Kent Reporter
Kent Knights Sweet Peas players line up for a hitting drill at Kent-Meridian High School’s practice fields Thursday. The fields may be getting an upgrade – and more use – as the city of Kent seeks more space for local teams.
— image credit: Charles Cortes, Kent Reporter

Kent city officials are considering plans to convert the grass practice fields at Kent-Meridian High School into synthetic turf fields with lights. They’re doing it in an effort to replace the Commons Playfields closed two years ago when the city built the ShoWare Center.

“It’s very conceptual, but we are looking at it as a long-term replacement,” said Jeff Watling, city parks director, at the City Council’s Parks and Human Services Committee meeting Thursday at City Hall. “With synthetic turf and lights, it will go a long ways to replicate what we lost at the Commons Playfields.”

Watling provided an informational report on the K-M sports fields to the committee of Council members Deborah Ranniger and Tim Clark. Councilwoman Elizabeth Albertson was ill and missed the meeting.

City parks planners recently met with Kent School District officials to discuss potential upgrades to the fields, which are north of the main high school campus.

The 8-acre site could be converted from grass to synthetic turf to feature two full-size soccer fields, two softball fields and one baseball field.

No city or school district funds exist at this time to pay for the new fields.

“We are trying to engage partners and identify funding to get over that hurdle,” Watling said.

The cost of converting the fields ranges from $3.5 million to $4.5 million, depending on which option would be selected, Watling said.

“But that is certainly less than if we had to buy land and put in new fields and parking,” he said.

Getting additional parking at Kent-Meridian for the new fields is a potential obstacle.

The three conceptual designs mainly vary on how much parking to add. Option 1 would provide little extra parking while options 2 and 3 provide more parking along the west side of the property but less field space.

“I favor option 2 or 3 for parking because I’ve been up there and there’s no parking when there are other activities at French Field, the Performing Arts Center and the pool,” Ranniger said at the parks committee meeting. “To increase the density with another activity, you have to provide parking.”

Clark said rather than to add more parking lots, he would like city officials to work with the school district to provide more parking at the district’s bus barn next to the fields. He said the district might be able to move the buses to the site of the Kent-Meridian pool if the city eventually builds a new aquatic center downtown and closes the K-M pool. The city has not finalized any plans to build a new pool because of a lack of funding.

The new fields would accommodate existing users, such as the Kent-Meridian baseball team and the Kent Knights youth football league, as well as expanding to other groups, such as the Kent Youth Soccer Association, Kent Little League and the city’s recreational program.

Watling said the city and school district would need to work out an agreement as far as whether the city or school district schedules and maintains the fields.

It is possible school teams could use the fields up to 5 p.m. each weeknight while community groups use the fields from 6-10 p.m. and on weekends, Watling said.

“We would see a return with our community investment (for more fields) and the school would see improved facilities for their teams,” Watling said.

Wayne Jensen, president of the Kent Youth Soccer Association, attended the parks committee meeting and said afterward that he would like to see the school district look at converting grass fields to synthetic fields with lights at Kentwood, Kentridge and Kentlake high schools as well as Kent-Meridian.

“It’s looking at the user base and where it fits in the plan,” Jensen said about the proposal for new fields at Kent-Meridian. “You don’t just build to build to serve a purpose. You need to look at fields at other schools and view them as community parks that can be used all of the time.”

Dave Lutes, athletic director for the Kent School District, said earlier this month that the district has no additional property to develop new fields. But Lutes said the district does need to look at ways to maximize the use of its fields with the addition of artificial turf and lighting.

City seeks input about parks

Residents can tell Kent city officials what changes they want to see at city parks at a public workshop from 6-8:30 p.m. Sept. 29 at the Kent Senior Center, 600 E. Smith St.

City officials are updating long-range plans for the parks, including future development, acquisition and renovation of the parks and open spaces.

For more information, call city parks planner Lydia Moorehead at 253-856-5114.

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