The consultant charged with putting together a comprehensive field plan for the Park District of Oak Park has recommended installing synthetic turf at Ridgeland Common and at Irving School between now and 2015 at a cost of $400,000.

The recommendation came after Barbara Heller, of Heller and Heller Consulting, presented results of the field study, which will eventually lead to the creation of a master plan for the district’s fields. Park staff have said it’s meant to be a living document that the board can use long-term to assess the future of each field, keep track of participation numbers and event scheduling and determine the best maintenance practices.

The District 97 school board has already given preliminary approval to replace the blacktop at Irving next summer with an artificial soccer field, new playground and parking lot. They’ll finalize that decision this spring. But the turf field option at Ridgeland Common is still up in the air as the park district waits on a grant and bid numbers for that renovation project and for the new gymnastics center.

During the meeting Monday night of the park board, the Park District Citizens Committee and the Greening Advisory Committee, Heller presented responses from focus groups about field management. She said park district employees thought artificial turf would be beneficial for all. But they said a priority system needs to be developed to control field use, and communication should be better about field allocation.

Affiliate groups agreed the fields are overused. Soccer has no limit on participant numbers and they should have a limit. The soccer fields also have too many weeds, not enough aeration and poor water, the affiliate groups said.

Heller and her colleague, Ed Dalton, recommended irrigation installation and improvements at Field, Longfellow and Taylor parks for $60,000 and turf blankets at Barrie and Taylor parks for $7,300. Dalton said turf blankets keep the fields warmer so the root systems can become more established and grow.

He said the district’s soccer fields should be aerated weekly if they aren’t too wet. Dalton also suggested weekly infield dragging for baseball and softball fields to prevent wild grasses from growing, and midseason field realignment if space allows. He said the goal of the park district should be to not use pesticides on the fields except as a last resort.

The district could instead utilize natural enemies to avoid pesticides. Heller said Dalton would come back with a training manual detailing the best field maintenance practices.

Longer-term recommendations, from 2016 to 2019, included laser grading for multipurpose and diamond fields at several parks, irrigation at several others and a synthetic turf field at Stevenson Park at a cost of $1 million. Stevenson was selected because it has lights, and there is already $900,000 allocated for improvements there in 2018.

Some attendees and board members said the numbers used to rank each field were hard to understand, and Heller said she and Dalton would take that into account while developing their final report. Heller said they hoped to present a final version to affiliate groups next month.

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