North Park field to get $670,000 turf

| Thursday, March 31, 2011

Allegheny County is spending $670,000 to replace the grass with artificial turf on the North Park field where North Catholic High School plays football.

The county maintains J.C. Stone Field at an annual cost of $15,000 to $20,000, depending on weather and usage, said Kevin Evanto, a spokesman for County Executive Dan Onorato. The county expects to save almost that much annually once the turf is installed.

"There will be some necessary upkeep for the artificial turf, but nowhere near the cost of maintaining the grass field," Evanto said in an e-mail.

Frank Orga, president of North Catholic High School, said it "couldn't hurt" that Onorato is an alumnus. He's "not doing anything he wouldn't do" for other organizations, Orga said.

"Other grade schools use it, and other organizations use that field," he said. "Once it's better, even more people will use it."

Groups and teams consisting of players younger than 18 do not have to pay a fee to use county fields, Evanto said. No groups or teams that use the field are helping to pay for the project.

The field project is part of a five-year improvement effort the county has been making at the park, Orga said.

"In conjunction with us, they've made improvements to the press box and scoreboard, locker rooms, concession stands," he said. "Once it's done, that makes it into a very classy field."

The turf project was included in last year's general capital budget, which County Council approved in December, Evanto said.

County Councilwoman Jan Rea, whose district includes North Park, said the turf project was not a line item in the budget, so she was not aware of it.

"It's important to me to make park improvements, but we have to make sure that they are improvements the whole community supports," Rea said, adding that she planned to visit the field today to look into the project.

The project will install 74,100 square feet of AstroTurf GameDay Grass 3D, which has less rubber than regular artificial turf and offers more cushion for athletes who fall on it.

The county issued permits for use of the field 76 times last year. North Catholic accounted for 40 of them. The others came from middle schools and the Pittsburgh Storm, a semi-professional football team.

"The field gets a ton of use," Evanto said. "A lot of leagues play on the field, and it really gets a workout. (Artificial turf) will enable the field to get more use and not be torn up as much."

Of the 34 teams in North Catholic's WPIAL classification, six play football on turf.

Evanto said the project is part of Onorato's County Parks Action Plan, meant to "transform and enhance" the county's nine regional parks.

"As part of that effort, the Public Works and Parks departments worked to identify high-impact projects that would provide the public with additional recreational opportunities. Converting J.C. Stone Field to artificial turf was selected since it sits in our most-used park and a growing area of the county," Evanto said.

In 2006, the Diocese of Pittsburgh announced it will move North Catholic from Troy Hill to the North Hills, but those plans do not include a football stadium, said the Rev. Kris Stubna, secretary for Catholic education.

"Even if it's in Cranberry, I assume they'll continue to use the field," Stubna said. "Plans call for the construction of a school building and practice fields. There is no place to play games."

North Catholic made a commitment to continue to use the field for athletic events for three to five years after the school moves, Orga said.

Work on the field is expected to be completed in July.

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