County field ruled out for soccer use
The Morgan County Commissioners decided last week that the county’s new public soccer field in the Parks & Recreation complex will remain closed because of continuing safety and liability concerns.
County officials were pressed for a decision by the Morgan County Soccer League, led by Debra McLaughlin, who is also the county’s prosecuting attorney.
McLaughlin said the spring soccer season has begun, and parents of players are requesting that the field be open for practices.
The county field, across U.S. 522 from the Parks & Rec ball field complex, was closed last April when shards of glass, pieces of rusty metal and other kinds of debris were found lodged in the playing surface.
The county bought the 10-acre field in 2006 from Tom Seely. Previous owners had used the property to store and crush junk vehicles.
At the Thursday, April 7 commission meeting, McLaughlin said she and other soccer parents had recently walked the field, and found a few small pieces of debris, but nothing that would present a safety concern.
“I have expressed to coaches that if parents have concerns, it’s their choice to use the field or not. I have no safety concerns for my own kids,” McLaughlin said.
The league plays the majority of its games at four soccer fields near Warm Springs Intermediate and Middle Schools.
She said the school fields have their own safety issues -- including irregular grass growth, jutting rocks and holes. But the soccer league, which has 250 players from ages four to 15, has to play somewhere.
“The fact is that soccer has come and it’s here to stay and it’s growing,” McLaughlin said.
Parent says field unsafe
One soccer parent, Brock Vanorsdale, told the commissioners he wouldn’t let his children play on the disputed field.
“I support soccer. I coached last year and have two kids that play. I just don’t want to put my kids at risk playing on that field,” Vanorsdale said.
“It hasn’t been right from the start,” he said.
“My kids won’t practice or play on the field until it’s fixed,” Vanorsdale said.
On a visit to the field on Tuesday, April 5, Vanorsdale turned up chunks of lead, pieces of glass and plastic protruding from the topsoil.
“So you’re not going to tell me it’s right. I‘ve got more respect for my kids than to let them play on that,” Vanorsdale said.
Commissioner Brenda Hutchinson asked if he had any suggestions about how the field should have been handled.
“You paid someone to tell you what to do,” Vanorsdale said, referring to a consultant hired by the county to assess the field last summer.
One of the consultant’s suggestions was to remove the tainted topsoil, put down a barrier and lay new topsoil.
County and park officials instead pursued a less expensive option -- to build up the turf in the hopes that the grass roots would keep the debris from working its way to the surface.
“I think we all agree that it wasn’t done right,” said McLaughlin.
County liable for injuries?
Hutchinson asked McLaughlin, in her capacity as prosecutor, what liability the county would have if it opened the field and a player got hurt.
McLaughlin recommended the county contact its insurance carrier to explore the liability issue.
Steve Rawlings, a representative from the West Virginia Risk Pool, was at the commission meeting to give an annual update. He said the county certainly could be exposed to a liability suit if the field was a source of injury to a player.
Hutchinson asked if parents could be asked to sign a liability waiver before having kids play on the county field.
“I don’t think having anyone sign anything will help you. You can’t waive negligence,” McLaughlin said.
Larry Schultz, a soccer parent and an attorney, showed county officials the bag of debris he had pulled from the field last spring before it was closed.
Schultz said the discovery of a large quantity of old tires and automotive scrap during the original excavation of the field indicated that the property met the legal definition of a salvage yard.
He questioned the value of the 9.9-acre parcel, which the county bought for $150,000.
“You’ve got a lot of money in it already and no soccer field,” Schultz said.
Another soccer parent, Paul Mock, said there are problems at all of the fields used for league practice and play.
“I just don’t think we’re going to be able to get a perfect field anywhere,” he said.
“Nobody’s looking for a perfect field. Just one where they can go out and play,” Vanorsdale said.
“Whatever the county decides to do, we need to look at alternative places to build a soccer field. We have a need. The need’s going to grow,” said Debra McLaughlin.
Look at other uses?
Commissioner Hutchinson said she was sad that the development of the field had stalled.
“If we’re not going to move forward, we might as well scratch it and look across the street to make a field,” she said.
“In some ways, I don’t think this is all about the children,” said Hutchinson.
“I can’t expose the county, in good faith, to that liability,” Hutchinson said.
Commissioner Close said he agreed.
“Unfortunately, we can’t do anything with it,” he said of the county field.
“We need to clean it up or do something else with it,” said Commission President Stacy Dugan, who has repeatedly questioned the field’s safety.
“The children will not be playing on that field,” she said.
“We need to decide what we’re going to do with it. The county still owns it,” said Hutchinson.
County officials will discuss the fate of the field at their May 5 meeting.