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Field of Dreams

Los Angeles, CA – “Play ball!” The ring of the umpire’s voice, a signal to kids of all ages that it’s time to have some fun, was also the working title of the Dodgers Dream Foundation (DDF) and the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks’ collaborative $1.2 million Dream Field project. The goal? To renovate Seoul International Park in mid-town Los Angeles and, in the process, turn it into a multi-use field supporting baseball, softball and soccer””providing athletic, educational and recreational opportunities for kids who are typically defined as at-risk or otherwise under-served. It was a broad goal, but when the DDF, which was created in 1998, stepped up to the plate, the public/private venture gained steam, and the result was hot, hot, hot. Building A Winning Team As with any other capital venture, funding, teamwork and communication ultimately determine whether or not a particular project is successful. Some-times a project that is funded, even partially by a third party, can turn into a nightmare of paperwork, oversight and challenges as the funding source tries to assert undo control over the project or take it in a different direction. According to Mark Marsical, Regional Superintendent, Metro for the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, this project avoided all of those traps. In fact, he gives the DDF his highest praise, saying, “The Los Angeles Dodgers were just great in partnering on this particular field.” Part of that may be that the DDF is used to partnering with a variety of civic-minded organizations (State of California, City of Los Angeles, LA for Kids Program, The Bank of America, Little League Baseball and The Amateur Athletic Foundation), and has developed a set way of doing business that works well for all parties involved (generally contributing 30 percent to the initial cost of the field renovation). And the other part may simply be that the entire Los Angeles Dodgers organization is committed to making this program a success. As Noel E. Pallais, Community Affairs Manager for the Dodgers, says, “The entire organization is behind the Dream Fields effort. Everyone from Frank McCourt, Owner and Chairman, and Jamie McCourt, President and Vice Chairman, to members of the management team, Dodger Legends, players, coaches and our broadcast team has appeared at Dream Field Openings.” In the case of this project at Seoul International Park, the DDF and the Amateur Athletic Foundation (the AAF provided $100,000 with 50 percent allocated for construction and 50 percent for programming subsidies) contributed to the development costs, working to bring a wonderful sports complex to a part of the city that is home to some of the city’s lowest per capita incomes. Artificial Turf? […] As Marsical says, “With natural turf the field would be shut down 12 weeks at the beginning of the year (January through March) and again for six weeks starting in late August. It was impossible to keep grass on the field, and nobody wants to play in a dust bowl. It’s just not healthy.” According to Marsical, before the installation of the A-Turf artificial surface, the department spent $75,000 per year refurbishing the field plus using 750,000 gallons of water to irrigate it. Going forward, they will still spend $75,000 per year (on maintenance and staff monitors responsible for ensuring patrons don’t take food, gum or drinks on the field), but they will not use any water (or very little) and can play year-round and long into the night (10 p.m. close). The addition of a MUSCO lighting system effectively increases their field’s playability by 35 percent. Marsical’s staff also anticipates 12 to 15 years of reliable play on the surface (which can be recycled after it’s outlived its usefulness) and less time maintaining the field. According to Jim Dobmeier, President of A-Turf, “A synthetic turf field requires only a few hours a month versus 15 to 60 hours a month.” The components of a typical artificial turf system include a crushed stone base, rubber, sand or all-rubber infill contained by a curbing system overlaid with the turf. The seams are either sewn or glued together (depending on location). According to the folks at A-Turf, the quality of the in-fill is what determines how happy athletes will be with the field””apparently, the less infill movement, the more consistent the surface. And, of course, make sure the drainage system is appropriate for the area. You can only play rain or shine if the water drains quickly and effectively through and off the field. Durability Test Shortly after its September 16, 2006, opening, Seoul International Park hosted the annual Korean Festival. The newly installed turf was completely covered with plywood and 80,000 people trampled it over a four-day period. Marsical’s staff was concerned its brand-new field would be trashed. But, according to Marsical, “The community was back on the field within 48 hours after the plywood was removed. They would have been on faster but we wanted to do a very specific inspection of the site to ensure that screws or other debris were totally removed. We were impressed with the minimal compaction of the turf when the plywood was removed.” The Dream Continues And the dream continues. The folks at the DDF have also completed Dream Fields at Algin Sutton Recreational Center, Montecito Recreation Center, Jackie Robinson Park, Cheviot Hills Park, Bishop Canyon Recreational Center and Evergreen Recreational Center. What’s next on the agenda? According to Pallais, a Dodgers Dream Field is currently being constructed at the site of the Playa Vista Little League, which just goes to show that beautiful things can happen when folks in the public and private sectors dream big. Sheryl L. Noble is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Parks & Rec Business magazine. Cover Photo Is Courtesy of Parks and Rec Business Magazine

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