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HRM postpones grass field closures in response to concerns raised over high school football future

WATCH: Concerns are being raised about the future of high school football programs in the Halifax area. As Alexa MacLean reports, coaches say the municipality is closing grass fields for maintenance without doing consultation about how that would impact the sport.
Halifax Regional Municipality announced Wednesday night that the “significant [maintenance] work originally planned” for grass fields has been postponed to next year in response to the concerns voiced by the high school football community.

The community were raising concerns over a reported decision by the municipality to close grass playing fields effective mid October, but HRM has now decided to keep grass fields open for bookings until Oct. 31.

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“Routine maintenance will take place between bookings which will help provide some improvement until the more significant restorative work is carried out,” said Erin Dicarlo, a spokesperson for the city, in an e-mail statement.

She said significant restorative maintenance work was planned to begin after fields were scheduled to close on Oct. 15 as the optimal time to complete this type of work is during the fall months.

“However, with the season being impacted by both wet weather in the spring and damage caused by hurricane Dorian, it was noted that there has already been an impact to playable time,” Dicralo said.

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The manager of Sir John A Flames football program, Brian Mason, was upset over the closure before the change was announced.

“I think what they [HRM] didn’t do was an impact analysis as to closing these fields, what it would have on the sport of football,” Brian Mason said.

Mason says information was provided regarding field closures, but it wasn’t highlighted as a major concern by field facilitators.

“I was aware when I received [booking] confirmation back in the middle of August that these fields were going to close. So, I managed to get in touch with the superintendent of fields and was told by him that, ‘well, you know it’s not carved in stone and if the weather is good in the fall and October, there’s the outside chance that the fields will remain open.'”

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Mason says alternate grass fields have been suggested by the municipality for high school teams to practice on, but they come with safety concerns due to field conditions and added travel.

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“You know, kids being kids, you have three or four piled in a car and who knows what happens. We’ve had close calls in our program before,” he said.

Mason also adds that all-weather turf fields are available but they are in high demand and come with much higher costs – a price point most high school teams cannot afford because they sustain themselves financially.

“A grass playing field is approximately $20 per hour. So, a two-hour practice is $40. Now, when we move to turf that goes to $100 plus an hour. So, for a high school team that’s an extra $1000 per week in practice time,” Mason said.

More to come…