University, student groups await final field decision

There may be no more playing dirty – or even waiting to play – for some Western athletes, if a new plan between student groups and the university wins approval later this month.

Awaiting final approval from Western’s Property and Finance Committee – set to meet this month – is a collaborative project between Western, the University Students’ Council (USC) and the Society of Graduate Students (SOGS) that will see the often muddy sport fields on Huron Drive transformed into two, state-of-the-art, artificial turf fields.

After reaching a deal with Western administration late last month, the USC announced the project would cost an estimated $4.47 million, with the university contributing $2.77 million. All undergraduate and graduate students would make up the difference by way of a $4.64 increase in student fees, effective this September.

Adam Fearnall, USC president, noted now was the time to strike with the agreement as further delay could have comprised the project. What’s more, he said, striking a deal with student representatives and the SOGS, in raising student fees, presented some challenges.

“The biggest challenge of all for us is the idea of student fees increasing. There’s a lot of money put into the system by students every year, and to continue to add to that is a difficult decision. In principle, you never want to raise student fees,” Fearnall said.

But for all parties, the pros of the project outweigh the costs.

“The benefit of this (project) is increased utilization for the students. Because of weather conditions, the fields are closed more than they’re open, and with limited capacity. For the students, this will mean programming year round,” said Therese Quigley, Sports and Recreation Services director.

More than 15,000 students at Western play intramural sports and roughly 1,000 students are involved in club and varsity programs that use the fields. The typical grass field conditions of the fields have led to closures of six months or more each year, with cancellations of activities leaving more than 800 students on waiting lists for intramural sports.

“Industry standard says a conversion to artificial turf increases your capacity three-fold. And the quality of the fields will be greatly enhanced, so the quality of students’ experience on the fields will be increased and consistent,” Quigley said.

But, she added, the benefits of installing two sate-of-the-art artificial turf fields go beyond expanded programing options for students that partake in intramural sports.

“The installation of artificial turf fields is becoming common practice. I was told by a consultant that there are more than 1,000 artificial turf fields in Berlin alone. We have three in London, soon to be five,” she said.

Quigley added the new artificial turf is nothing like the AstroTurf of a generation ago. This means better training conditions for athletes.

“The surface has changed significantly. AstroTurf was hard and abrasive, not really a playing surface people would choose to train on or compete on. The industry has come so far that artificial turf is now a better training surface than natural grass because it is consistent,” she explained.

“The quality, safety and consistency of these fields is why more and more people are going to it. And the investment to keep natural grass turf up to that level is significant, especially in a flood plain as in our fields now, where it’s next to impossible.”

With the installation of two new artificial turf fields, Western is joining the ranks of other universities already reaping the benefits of this conversion, among them McMaster University, Queen’s University and the University of Toronto – just to name a few.

If approved, the anticipated completion date of the artificial turf fields project is September 2013.


If approved, the conversion of the sport fields on Huron Drive from grass into state-of-the-art, artificial turf fields would include:

  • Installation of two artificial turf fields on the site of the current practice fields;
  • Field 1 would be of rugby specifications, with multi-sport lining. Field 2 would be of multi-sport specifications;
  • Both fields would be fully fenced with new lighting systems;
  • Installation of transportable bleachers, scoreboards and landscaping and infrastructure re-routing.