City drops limited access plan for stadium after public outcry

The Masich Place Redevelopment Project is set for completion in 2018. The $4.4 Million project includes one of the first outdoor synthetic fields in northern B.C. (seen being installed in this City of Prince George file photo from August, 2017).

BY BILL PHILLIPS

bill@pgdailynews.ca

Walkers can take a victory lap.

The city has backtracked on its proposal to limit drop-in walkers and runners at the newly-refurbished Masich Place Stadium.

“Over the last few weeks, city staff have heard loud and clear that the residents of Prince George would like to see additional access for walking,” said Gina Layte Liston, city director of public works.

The city’s original proposal to allow drop-in walkers and runners access from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. was met with stiff opposition from the community, including a 2,000 name petition calling for better access.

On Money, Layte Liston presented a revised access agenda to council which would allow drop-in access from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., unless the facility is booked by a user group. She added that usage on the field will increase dramatically, once it is re-opened August 7.

“Expanded staffing levels will be required immediately and into the future,” she said, adding dollar figure for the new staffing levels will be in a operational plan presented for next year’s budget.

Layte Liston added that walkers and runners will not be allowed on the track while other groups have booked the field.

“Past experience at Masich Place Stadium has shown that there can be conflicts when a user group has booked the facility and there is public track walking,” she said. “… This goes beyond the errant balls, where players have physically contacted the walkers who are not always cognizant of the play going on in the infield or the user groups running on the track.”

Fears of vandalism is one of the prime reasons Layte Liston gave for the plan to have city staff present at the facility during opening hours. The city will examine usage over the rest of this year, which will help determine opening hours for 2019.

That didn’t sit well with Coun. Brian Skakun, who was vocally opposed to the originally proposed limited access.

“It’s unfortunate that we had to go this route,” Skakun said. “ … The idea of vandalism, there’s no doubt it’s there, but I don’t think we can use that a reason to deter people from going after 1 p.m.”

He, however, was happy with the proposed new schedule and introduced the motion to accept the 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. opening, even though many were calling for a dawn to dusk opening.

Mayor Lyn Hall, who said he received “hundreds and hundreds” of calls and emails on this issue, was also happy with the change in hours. He said the Masich Place Stadium upgrade was one of a long line of facility improvements since 2015, including CN Centre, Kin 1, and the Otway Nordic Centre.

“Masich Place Stadium was a huge feather for us, being able to develop a state of the art facility,” he said. “We heard loud and clear from the user groups and individuals that there was too much constraint on the ability to get out and walk. I think we’ve reached a happy medium here.”

Katie Paolucci, who set up the online petition calling for expanded hours, said the new hours are a step in the right direction.

“I’m glad to hear they were listening,” she said. “They couldn’t ignore it since there was such a large interest in it. It’s nice to see that they are considering taking it back to the table after it has open for a couple of months.”

The city will be posting a schedule of the facility on its website, through social media channels, and at the facility itself.