The back campus field project – one which will see two synthetic turf fields installed between University College and Hoskin Avenue – is a carefully considered strategy for greatly improving playing time, quality of play and player safety for all levels of sport and recreation, and for the entire U of T community. This strategy is part and parcel of U of T’s broader commitment to expand opportunities and access for its students, staff and faculty to engage in the kinds of healthy, active living that will improve their academic experience and quality of life – and, in the longer term, reduce the costs to our society of an inactive lifestyle. THE CURRENT CHALLENGES
Over 10,000 students are engaged in intramural sports, nearly 3,000 of whom participate in field sports, and that number grows every year. The University’s physical activity spaces, however, do not. As intramural waiting lists expand
, and as demand for drop-in recreation swells
, we are turning frustrated students away from opportunities to engage in regular physical activity because of lack of facility time and space to accommodate the huge demand. We expect this demand to continue to grow annually with our future students’ increasing awareness of the importance of physical activity and sports for mental and physical health.
The challenges of balancing the demand for field time with the need to maintain natural turf are well-documented. The reality is that maintaining natural grass in this highly-used space is simply not a sustainable solution
. The turf in this space is badly degraded (it has been deemed unfit for play by Ontario University Athletics) and becomes very unsafe for play early in each new academic year. Moreover, efforts to revive it have consistently resulted in a quality playing surface for a very limited time each year, resulting in long waiting lists for intramural teams (on average over the last five years we have had anywhere from 35 to 90 field-based teams – with roughly 15 individuals per team – on waiting lists).
The Pan Am and Parapan Am Games in 2015 present an opportunity for the University of Toronto to participate in and contribute to an important international sporting event while creating a legacy for the entire U of T community. Installing a double synthetic turf field on back campus to be used for field hockey during the Games allows the University to fill a very pressing need for a fraction of the total cost. The long-term payback is greatly expanded playing time for a variety of recreational activities and sports in addition to intercollegiate and high performance sports.
It is important to clarify – and indeed celebrate – the fact that these various levels of use are not mutually exclusive. Every sport and recreation facility on U of T campuses is developed with all of our students in mind. That many of these spaces also serve some of the country’s top athletes only means that U of T students have access to state-of-the-art equipment, surfaces and spaces for keeping active and healthy – and that these resources are supported by the latest knowledge about sport science, physical activity and healthy living.
THE CONSULTATION AND APPROVAL PROCESS
Extensive consultations led to the approval by the University of Toronto Governing Council of the back campus fields project in April 2012. This began with a formal project planning committee, struck by the University in January of 2011, to review the feasibility of the back campus fields project.
Consultations in the years leading up to project development included presentations to numerous fora (which represent the University’s students, faculty, alumni, and staff), including the University’s Design Review Committee, the Neighbourhood Liaison Committee, the Council on Athletics and Recreation, and the Council on Student Services. Individual meetings also took place with Hart House, University College, and the University of Toronto Students' Union. The governance committee approvals process was as follows:
Planning & Budget – February 29, 2012
Business Board – March 4, 2012
University Affairs Board – March 13, 2012
Academic Board – March 14, 2012
Governing Council – April 11, 2012
With the exception of one abstention, the support was unanimous at all levels of University governance.
As a capital project of the Pan Am Games, the project management is handled by an Ontario provincial government agency, Infrastructure Ontario (IO). IO, Toronto 2015 and the University of Toronto entered into formal discussions upon receipt of Governing Council approval. A memorandum of understanding was signed by these three parties on April 18, 2012. Design work and site plans were managed through IO and a facility agreement, providing for basic contractual obligations, was signed in August 2012. THE COST
The University – through the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education – will contribute 44 per cent of the cost of the $9.5 million project in return for the Games’ exclusive use for a time-limited period in the summer of 2015. As per the memorandum of understanding and facility agreement with Toronto 2015, the University’s contribution to the project will not exceed $4.2 million. THE PROJECT TIMELINES
Construction is set to begin July 1, 2013 and to be completed by late spring 2014. During construction, the Faculty will relocate the programs that currently use back campus. While the location will change temporarily during the construction, the program offerings will remain the same. Programs will also be relocated from June to August 2015, in preparation for and during the Games. THE BENEFITS
The University of Toronto’s ability to provide opportunities for healthy physical activity and sports programs for students is currently well below the Council of Ontario Universities (COU) standards of athletic space per capita. At present we provide only 61 per cent of the COU standard for athletic space in relation to the number of students enrolled at the St. George campus.
These new fields provide safer surfaces on which to play, and expand access time by nearly 300 per cent. Students and student-athletes at all levels will realize greater access to these fields throughout the year, and will enjoy a higher quality surface on which to play, train and compete. Some of these participants are high performance athletes, yes. And that’s something we are incredibly proud of. But most of the participants on these fields will be U of T students who are making the very best out of their time with us – a time made better by access to the kind of spaces they deserve.
The University of Toronto is both proud of and excited about this important new campus infrastructure. The back campus fields project provides the best possible solution to a long-standing challenge, meeting the interests of the broad student body and bringing value to the U of T community as it continues to grow and evolve.
For further information about the project, read the Q&A
, the Project Planning Report
and the University’s official stance on the project
. A succinct history and impassioned case for the project can also be found in the recent remarks of Professor Bruce Kidd
, former dean of the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education and current warden of Hart House, delivered during a Massey College debate in March 2013.