Monday, January 28, 2008

A UPEI home for an athletic facility?
A UPEI home for an athletic facility?

There are arguments in favour of building this Canada Games structure at UPEI,
but there are also some concerns.
Barring any more concerns about rock concerts, it's a sure bet the 2009 Canada Summer Games athletics facility will be constructed at the University of Prince Edward Island.

There are a number of obvious arguments in favour of UPEI as the location for the last major piece in the facilities puzzle for the national event Aug. 15-29 of next year. But there are concerns as well. The value of the green buffer space between CARI and the commercial development approaching the Charlottetown Mall cannot be underestimated. The visual impact of the parkland setting of trees, creek and little walking bridge is a welcome respite. Now a large section of that will be gone. Additional road access will be needed so we can expect even more land to be used for pavement, lights and parking.

One wonders why a multi-purpose facility wasn't built some two years ago when the artificial turf soccer field was constructed. Why wasn't there more foresight to building a track around the soccer field, along with sufficient bleachers, instead of trying to correct that problem today?

UPEI has no legacy of track and field, so why this urgency of having this facility on campus? Perhaps the track will jump-start an athletics program that already thrives in other Atlantic universities like Dalhousie.

The proposed new field has already drawn interest from football supporters who see this as an opening to getting football back as a varsity sport. Football was effectively boxed out of the turf field and the sport now sees a chance to find a new home on campus after all.

The concept plan presented Wednesday night also raises the issue of MacAdam Field, already bumped from its former location by parking and mobile classrooms and then relegated to the rugby pitch and practice facility. Now it looks like MacAdam Field will become an orphan again.

The plan has the new track and field facility on an east-west axis built right over MacAdam Field. Granted, this is a concept, but it indicates a lack of any long-range planning, at least for this facility, if they are going to start tearing up a field two years after it was built.

The plan is to excavate down four metres and build a berm around the track to transform the athletics facility into a bowl setting. The plan also calls for 10 acres to be developed, along with a practice facility in the northeast end of the development.

Leaving a legacy is always a key component of the Canada Games. Since P.E.I. schools are the largest supporters of track and field today, there should be guarantees of their access to this facility. The venue should be seen as a provincial facility and not solely a UPEI venue.

The UPEI location will also result in considerable extra cost in building this facility, first targeted at approximately $2 million and now heading towards $5 million. Stonepark was considered to be a strong contender for the athletics facility because it has a natural bowl and a track already there.

The concept plan calls for a 400-metre synthetic competition track, natural grass infield, grandstand with permanent seating for 1,400, temporary seating for 5,000, timing tower, results room and equipment storage.

Summerside will host the Games opening ceremonies at the new Wellness Centre as week one will be based in the western part of the province with the athletes village at Slemon Park. Week two shifts to the eastern end of the province with the athletes village moving to UPEI and the closing ceremonies now scheduled for the athletics facility.

Time ran out on making a decision for the athletics facility and UPEI was picked as the only site suitable given the limited time frame left. The decision is probably the right one but let's make sure the proper facility is built this time.

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