Who has access to turf soccer field?

At the last City of Merced town hall meeting, residents spoke up about the maintenance of and access to local parks.

South Merced residents complained about the Stephen Leonard and McNamara parks. The restrooms are either locked or dirty. There’s litter. And, no one besides soccer clubs can play on the new turf soccer fields at McNamara Park, they said.

Q: What must be done for residents who would like to use the turf fields at McNamara Park?

A: If the fields are not booked, residents can rent them out for $40 an hour by booking them at Merced Civic Center.

It’s not unusual for cities to keep turf fields locked. Modesto fences and locks its synthetic turf soccer fields during non-operating hours, said Nathan Houx, a parks planning and development manager with the city of Modesto.

However, in Modesto, residents are allowed to use the facility during operating hours until dusk, when there’s no reservation. Modesto offers that at no charge, Houx said.

In Merced, most evenings and weekends, the fields are booked by the Merced Atlas Soccer Academy and Merced Youth Soccer Association, said Mike Conway, a city spokesman.

Those organizations are city-affiliated and have primary use. Other teams such as UC Merced, Merced High, El Capitan High and Tenaya Middle School have used the fields as well.

The fields aren’t like the city’s grass fields that are open for use at any time in community parks.

“A better comparison would be with a gym,” Conway said. “Cities don’t open up their gyms and walk away, leaving them unstaffed. When a gym is open, you have staff supervising the use to make sure it’s being used correctly, or you’ve got supervised teams playing on it.”

If the city left the fields unlocked, Conway said, there’s no doubt they would quickly deteriorate. And turf is expensive to repair.

“We must call someone to do the repair and reglue the turf,” he said. “It starts getting expensive, and we’re hiring an expert to do it.”

Last summer, the city opened the field up for a few “play days” so residents could use the fields. The city plans to do that again this year but has not yet set any dates.

Soccer fields are in high demand in Merced. Currently, all of Merced’s grass fields are used year-round with no “rest” time to let the grass recover, Conway said.

For years, the city has wanted to build a sports complex at Mission Avenue and Tyler Road that would add multiple soccer fields. Various factors, including a lack of funding and the state’s drought, prevented the city from moving forward on the project, Conway said.

City officials still are interested in the project and hope to add six to eight soccer fields within the next two or three years.

On another note:

This column has been on a short hiatus and hopefully will be returning on a consistent basis.

In case you’re new to reading this column, it’s a place where, each week, I field questions and suggestions from readers and do my best to find answers or explanations. The only requirement is that the topics must relate to Merced County in some way. That leaves the playing field pretty broad.

Email or call me with your questions.

Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477, @BriannaCalix