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August 28, 2012
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Ford Park project starts next week

VAILWhat's the plan? - The next step in more than a decade of upgrades in town starts next week at the town's main athletic fields in Ford Park.

The Vail Town Council last week gave the final go-ahead to start work on a three-year project that will transform the athletic fields and restroom facilities. The first part of the project - funded by the town's Real Estate Transfer Tax and money originally intended to build a conference center - starts next week and will continue through the winter. That first phase will include building a couple of new restrooms - which will also hold a concession stand, a small office and equipment storage. The work will also include building a retaining wall at the west softball field.

That retaining will clear the way for one of the biggest pieces of the plan - creating two full-sized soccer fields at the park. Those fields will also be suitable for lacrosse, and that's important.

As the annual Vail Lacrosse Shootout has grown, organizers have had to move big parts of the tournament west of Dowd Junction. A new field will keep some of those teams in Vail.

"That's going to mean more seats in restaurants and more people shopping in town," Vail Recreation District board member Rick Sackbauer said. "Our goal has been to have more people in Vail."

That boost won't come until 2014, though. Todd Oppenheimer, who's managing the project for the town of Vail, said work on the fields will start as soon as the 2013 lacrosse tournament ends. The fields will then be closed until the 2014 tournament. During that time, the fields will be realigned, and a drainage system installed to make the fields playable in just about all weather.

Town and recreation district officials are also talking about a plan that would allow the softball infields to be covered in artificial turf for soccer, lacrosse and other sports. Oppenheimer said putting turf down in the infield would create level playing surfaces, which will be safer for athletes.

Sackbauer acknowledged closing the fields in 2013 will be tough, but said he believes softball teams playing in Vail now can be accommodated elsewhere in the valley, and that teams used to playing in Vail will return after the fields re-open.

While the fields may be the most visible part of the project, that's only part of the program. The work will also include a pair of new restroom buildings, as well as rebuilding the access road to the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater - which will also be renovated over the next couple of years. Oppenheimer said the biggest part of the job will be upgrading the road from the amphitheater to the parking lots to the east. Trucks that supply the amphitheater now come in only from the west. If a semi tractor-trailer rig has to unload at the amphitheater, it's tricky, and sometimes dangerous, to get the rig turned around.

The road work will allow heavy trucks to come down from the east, back up to the loading dock, then leave to the west, Oppenheimer said. Smaller trucks can come in form the east, then turn around and leave the way they came, which will take trucks off the parts of the road that are often swarming with pedestrians and cyclists.

Another big part of the plan is updating all the utilities which comes in the first phase of work. That's also the place where the costs increased, by nearly $1 million over the original estimates.

Ford Park dates back to the 1970s or earlier, which means the state of the water, sewer and electric lines could most charitably described as "dilapidated." There's also the fact that, like most things from Vail's first couple of decades, no one is entirely sure just what's underground.

While the park is going to be out of commission for a good portion of the next couple of years, Sackbauer said he's excited to see the end result. He's also excited that the recreation district and town have worked together to help fund and manage the improvement project.

"(The district) would never have been able to afford this without the partnership," Sackbauer said.

And, Oppenheimer said, park users, from out-of-town sports teams to local residents, "will have a Vail-class facility when we're finished."

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Aug 30, 2012 10:11AM Published Aug 28, 2012 08:29PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.