Turf fields taking shape at Leo Mullen Sports Park

Javier Acosta, left, and installation foreman Pablo Vasquez inlay lines (using glue and white turf) for the goalie box on a field at Leo Mullen Sports Park.
(Eduardo Contreras/San Diego Union-Tribune.)

Work is well under way on new artificial turf playing fields at Leo Mullen Sports Park in Encinitas, and kids should be able to play on the new surface soon if all goes as planned.

Part of the project’s $1 million price tag is being covered by a $171,248 water rebate from the Metropolitan Water District, and in order to receive that money, the city has to have the construction activity “substantially complete” by Sept. 6.

“We actually think we’ll get the project done before that,” said city Public Works Director Glenn Pruim.

Prospects look very good because contractors began installing the artificial turf this week, he added.

Located on Via Cantebria across the street from the Target store, the Leo Mullen Sports Park contains some of the most frequently used playing fields in Encinitas. Encinitas Soccer League — the city’s biggest youth sports league with some 1,700 members — typically plays most of its games on those fields.

The league’s players, parents and coaches have been urging the city to renovate them for years. Lately, the fields have been described as being more mud than grass.

Shifting over to an artificial playing surface hasn’t been an easy-to-accomplish project, however. The project’s hefty price tag has been a source of concern, and conflicts over the scope of work almost cost the city its anticipated water rebate earlier this year. City officials were facing a June 8 deadline for their rebate money, but won an extension from the water district to Sept. 6.

The city council awarded the construction job to Byrom-Davey Inc. — a San Diego-based company that has done artificial field projects at Canyon Crest Academy and Torrey Pines High School.

Work began in late July, but initially the focus was on excavation rather than turf installation, Pruim said. In order to put the turf in place, the contractors first had to remove the old soil subsurface, then install drainage systems and new specialized soil material, he said.

They also installed electrical conduit under the turf area, he added. The conduit will allow the city to add lighting over the fields at a later date without tearing up the new artificial playing surface.

Lighting the fields has been a contentious topic. In May, the city attorney declared that the city could light the fields without needing voter approval as long as the light poles were less than 30 feet tall. Soccer league supporters have lobbied for lights, saying they will allow more kids to play more games. Opponents have said the lights may disrupt wildlife in the adjacent habitat area.

In order to gain fast-track approval from the state Coastal Commission for the artificial turf installation project and not lose out on the water rebate money, the council decided to eliminate the proposed footings for light poles, leaving that construction issue to be resolved at a later date.

While this is the first city-owned, artificial turf project, there are other playing fields in Encinitas with the special surface. San Dieguito Union High School District has installed artificial turf at its high schools, and the Ecke Family YMCA also has artificial turf playing fields.

— Barbara Henry is a writer for the San Diego Union-Tribune