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Squamish's Axemen Rugby Club calls out District on turf field allocation

The club was unable to secure any time on the turf field this fall at Brennan Park; District acknowledges demand outweighs supply, aims to address some concerns in 2024.
What is your experience with using the all-weather turf field at Brennan Park? Let us know with a letter to the editor:

A local sports club is calling foul play on how the District of Squamish allocates the use of the all-weather turf field at Brennan Park Recreation Centre, and other clubs say demand outweighs the current infrastructure in place.

The District of Squamish acknowledges the demand for field use is greater than the supply, and says they offer fields “as fairly as possible." The muni hopes to address some of these concerns in 2024.

The Axemen Rugby Club is speaking out publicly with its frustration after it did not secure time this fall on the turf field. 

“Axemen Rugby Club are extremely disappointed that we were not able to secure a single hour of time on the unique Brennan Park turf facility for the entirety of the fall booking season for any of our youth, senior women's, senior men's programs or our barrier-free community touch rugby program,” wrote Neil Irwin on behalf of the club in an email to The Squamish Chief.

As shown by the District’s public field allocation calendar, the Howe Sound Soccer League (HSSL) and Squamish Youth Soccer Association (SYSA) took up a majority of the field use from the upcoming September through February. 

The two leagues combine for an average of about seven hours of use on the turf field on a weekday and about 10 hours of use on weekends.

The Axemen did not fault the soccer groups. Instead, they challenged the District to consider more “equitable access” for local sports groups.

“Reliable and equitable access to facilities is crucial for the growth of these sports and ensuring Squamish residents can participate in a variety of activities,” said Irwin. 

“The recreation department is opting to strictly implement a simplistic and outdated policy to the detriment of smaller and emerging sports groups,” he continued, referencing the District’s priority for use of facilities and parks policy.

The policy in question was adopted in 1984, and gives precedent to user groups in the following order: youth user groups (by field use), seasonal youth user groups, Squamish youth field sports (new or emerging youth sports), Squamish adult field sports, and finally non-resident field sports.

District spokesperson Rachel Boguski told The Squamish Chief that this policy is how the turf field use was chosen for this fall’s activities.

Additionally, the District prioritizes bigger groups.

“In the case of two user groups with 100 youth enrolled and 800 youth enrolled, the group with 800 youth enrolled would receive priority consideration,” wrote Boguski.

When looking at the turf field alone, the rugby club says this method goes against the values of the Brennan Park Fields and Lands Master Plan, which was adopted in 2021. The plan states that “existing and new facilities must be accessible to multiple community groups and demographics.”

“The Brennan Park Fields and Lands Master Plan specifically calls on efforts to ensure facilities are accessible to multiple community groups. … Yet, the outcome delivered for the fall season obviously runs contrary to this stated vision,” wrote Irwin.

Other groups weigh in

The Squamish Chief reached out to several local sports groups to assess if they had challenges as well. 

The Squamish Field Hockey Club took more of a middle stance but acknowledged that access to the turf field was hard to come by for the upcoming fall season.

“We took the available times, which weren't great,” said Paul Buck on behalf of the field hockey club. “We may want better times as the club matures.”

The field hockey club got two hours of time at the turf field, from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., on Saturdays during the fall.

“There's more demand than supply, basically, for the turf field,” Buck summarized.

The president of the HSSL, Michael Heinrich, shared a similar sentiment to Buck.

“The infrastructure that is currently in place is not presently meeting the demands of the community,” said Heinrich.

The Brennan Park Master Plan aims to resolve these conflicts by making more fields, including converting the gravel area near the turf field to another turf field, as well as adding other multi-use fields.

While those solutions aren’t imminent, the District says that “work to plan for future field and amenity spaces is being looked at in 2024.”

“One aim of this work will be to better address the needs and concerns of our field user groups while maintaining fair and equitable field use across the community.”

Irwin said the rugby club hopes to work with the District and add its input when the time comes for that planning.

 Potential CapU field use ‘does not resolve the core issue'

Some of these supply and demand issues stem from the closure of Quest University, which allowed local sports groups to use its turf field regularly for years. 

Since then, of course, Capilano University has purchased the campus. While the Axemen Rugby Club wrote that it welcomes CapU and hopes that the university will have similar community use opportunities like Quest, it does not solve the issue.

“It does not resolve the core issue that is the meaningful inclusion of emerging user groups and community sports clubs on the floodlit turf field at Brennan Park," wrote Irwin.

CapU told The Chief it has already received groups expressing interest in using campus facilities.

“Right now, we are still in the early stages of determining usage and timing, and will be updating community groups as we know more. Groups interested in connecting with CapU for usage inquiries should email,” wrote Pamela Findling, director of communications for CapU.

While CapU seems open to community use, Heinrich told The Chief that CapU will also have its own athletes needing to use the field and, as such, shouldn’t be looked at as a “long-term plan.”

Growing pains

Like the turf field, similar use issues happen at the swimming pool and ice rink.

Only a year ago, the Hilltop Hockey players voiced their displeasure with the District about the team’s late-night ice time. More recently, a local dad described his ire with the District’s policy that saw him needing to exit the swimming pool and pay for re-entry.

Heinrich sees the demand for Brennan Park resources as a symptom of a quickly growing community more than anything else.

“That's nobody's fault other than the fact that we have grown so quickly as a community over the last few years,” he said. 

The District says it is being as fair as it can be under the circumstances. 

“As our population has grown, we acknowledge that there is greater demand for the fields and the District is alive to this issue. We ultimately need more fields to accommodate the growing community. In the meantime, we are working to offer what we can as fairly as possible,” wrote Boguski.