Community park fields to debut later than rest of grounds


While the Encinitas Community Park is set to open in the coming months, the city will discourage people from using the fields on the 44-acre property until early 2015.

Most of the park features, including the skatepark, dog park and playground, are finished or close to it. But because the recently planted grass needs time, the city will post signs around the fields asking visitors to stay off.

The city is also considering driving home the message by having the park host — tasked with education and clean-up — inform visitors about the sensitive grass, according to John Frenken, park and beach superintendent.

“We’re trying to get the grass to grow, so if we get people playing on it, it won’t be established,” Frenken said.

However, he noted, fines aren’t on the table to deter field use.

The park, off Santa Fe Drive, is scheduled to debut this fall, though a date hasn’t been set.

Park contractor USS Cal Builders is slated to finish construction in this window and remove fencing surrounding the park, as per contract requirements.

Once that happens, the city is responsible for the property, Frenken said. So delaying the opening until next year on account of the grass would require installing new security fencing and other measures.

“It would be harder for us to keep a park that’s ready to be opened closed than it would be to open it and keep people off the fields,” he said.

The fields — a soccer field and three multi-use fields — make up about 22 percent of the 44-acre park, Frenken noted. But the 2-acre dog park, featuring a different type of turf, will be open in the fall.

Encinitas Little League and other organizations have been informed about the situation.

Frenken said the fields should be available by early 2015, but that’s only an estimate.

The grass was planted in June, and it’s about 30 percent grown in. Once it’s finished sprouting, there will be a maintenance phase to allow the grass “to establish itself,” he said.

Frenken said USS Cal Builders waited until mid-June to plant the grass since soil temperatures weren’t warm enough earlier in the year.

Although the grass won’t be ready for the opening, Frenken said the city isn’t considering filing for damages against the company at this point. USS Cal Builders is on pace to fulfill contract obligations that state the grass must be 85 percent grown in by the time the company hands over the site to the city.

A representative from USS Cal Builders did not respond to a request for comment.

The fields are being watered six days a week. San Dieguito Water District’s mandatory drought restrictions, which are expected to take effect Aug. 20, would have limited irrigation days.

But it’s anticipated the park will have switched from potable to recycled water by then, meaning watering days won’t be cut back.

When reached for comment Aug. 4, Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer said the council recently received an email update on the progress of the park and the grass. Shaffer had yet to review the matter in-depth, but said on first glimpse, she thought city staff members made the right call.

“Rather than kill the grass by people walking on it, we should get it right,” Shaffer said. “It seems like we don’t have much of a choice.”

The city paid $17.2 million to acquire the land. Park construction will cost an estimated $19.3 million. The project broke ground about two years ago.

During a tour of the grounds two weeks ago, it was noted that even though the park isn’t yet open, that hasn’t stopped skateboarders from using it.