HCC board OKs 7-field soccer plan

September 29, 1994|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Sun Staff Writer

The Howard Community College board of trustees approved last night a Columbia youth soccer organization's proposal to build a seven-field soccer complex on campus, contingent on reaching leasing and financing agreements.

The board's action is a step toward concluding a 10-year quest by the Soccer Association of Columbia to develop a regional soccer complex, including a lighted, 3,000-capacity stadium, for its nearly 4,000 participants.

"We're very encouraged and optimistic," said Michael Curry, the soccer association's publicity coordinator. "This really is a true example of the cooperative spirit a community is supposed to be based upon."

The association worked throughout the summer to allay the concerns of a townhouse community across Hickory Ridge Road from the campus. Residents initially opposed the project, expressing concern about traffic, parking, lighting, litter and noise. But most who testified at last night's public hearing said the association did a good job addressing concerns and making design changes to improve the project.

"It's my opinion that as long as input from the community is maintained, the project will be a good one and will benefit our children, the college and the community," said Roger Barnes, a resident of the 260-townhouse Hickory Hollow development.

Several residents offered support but cautioned college and association officials to further consider potential problems, particularly traffic safety.

Michael Koterba said Hickory Ridge Road already is a traffic hazard for children. "My bottom line question is, where's the enforcement?" he said. "What will happen if it doesn't work?"

The college and the soccer association are negotiating several financing and leasing options for the project, estimated to cost $700,000 to $900,000. The project, which could include as many as three lighted fields, would involve reconfiguring several existing soccer and softball fields and moving the college's track.

"The ball is back in the college's court to come up with something we can agree on," Mr. Curry said. "We're not going to put $1 million into it and have use for only one year."

The board of trustees said it must investigate whether it needs state approval to grant a long-term lease and legal implications in case the college helps finance the project. One option is for the association to pay all construction and maintenance costs.

"If we were to commit to a long-term lease agreement, it could limit the board's options," said HCC President Dwight Burrill. "It's conceivable that in five, 10, 15 years, we might find a different use for the space."

A soccer complex would enhance the college's athletic facilities, generate revenue from summer camps, benefit other groups in the county that would be eligible to use the fields and possibly increase enrollment, Dr. Burrill said.

Several elected officials and candidates also weighed in, agreeing that a soccer complex could provide an outlet for county youths and lauding a private-public partnership that might not cost taxpayers anything.

Del. Virginia M. Thomas, a Democrat from District 13A and a candidate for the state Senate, said she was concerned that the county's development of recreational fields was not keeping pace with population growth.

"This doesn't relieve the county of looking for more playing fields," she said.

Riaz H. Rana, a Republican candidate for County Council in the 4th District, said the complex "can help be an answer to future problems" but cautioned that it shouldn't burden taxpayers or the surrounding community.

Other financing options include seeking a low-interest loan and soliciting donations from the community, Dr. Burrill said.

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