Rugby coach Tom Woods stands on the nearly 50-year-old track surrounding the playing field at Esquimalt High. Woods is part of a committee trying to secure funding for a new all-weather playing field, clubhouse and grandstand on the site. Kristyn Anthony/VICTORIA NEWS

Rugby coach Tom Woods stands on the nearly 50-year-old track surrounding the playing field at Esquimalt High. Woods is part of a committee trying to secure funding for a new all-weather playing field, clubhouse and grandstand on the site. Kristyn Anthony/VICTORIA NEWS

Esquimalt ‘field of dreams’ needs funding boost

Volunteer group hoped project could receive Township’s amenity funds, but school district owns site

If you build it, they will come. In Esquimalt, they’re already here, they just need their field of dreams.

A dedicated group of volunteers associated with Esquimalt Ribfest have been raising funds for three years, with the goal of providing the community with an all-weather playing field.

Tom Woods, an Esquimalt High alumni and rugby coach, says the Township is the only municipality in Greater Victoria that doesn’t have an all-weather turf for year-round use.

“As soon as it gets rainy, our kids have to leave our community to play sports,” he says, adding Esquimalt has a large contingent of youth who play a variety of sports including rugby and soccer.

Earlier this year, the group launched a petition – accumulating 1,500 signatures – hoping Esquimalt council could allocate some of the McLoughlin Point Amenity Funds to see the Field of Dreams become a reality.

Woods says they recently found out the land isn’t owned by the municipality, but is property of School District 61.

A new committee, including SD61 Trustee Jordan Watters, Mayor Barb Desjardins, Coun. Olga Liberchuk, a representative from the Esquimalt Alumni Association and Woods representing Ribfest, has been formed to figure out how to make the dream come to fruition and find alternative funding sources.

“I’d love to see the kids be able to go to an area that is purpose-built for them,” Woods says. “Sports can be a huge part of a high school and when you’re proud of your teams, it gives you an identity.”

The plan is to resurface the 45-year-old track and install a synthetic, state-of-the-art turf field for soccer, field lacrosse and rugby, as well as a perimeter track, open to the community.

The long-term vision is to see a field house, grandstands and workout facility for Esquimalt High students, who currently lift weights on a converted theatre stage, a compromise on space.

“The entire time the high school has been there, there’s been no workout room,” Woods says.

He’d like to see a joint-use agreement with the district or other local sport organizations, such as the Gorge Soccer Association, who could potentially lease the field after school hours to provide revenue for the Township.

Desjardins says the joint-use idea is an important detail. “Imagine the sports tourism we could attract,” she notes. Her son used the track when he attended Esquimalt High, and she calls its current condition “atrocious.”

“Let’s build those good programs that we have like the rugby academy at Esquimalt High. [It] only has half a chance when it doesn’t have the ability to use its own field,” she adds.

Woods is open to federal, provincial, corporate, or community partners to “step up to the plate” including local First Nations, and ideally would like to see the track built in time for the 2020 North American Indigenous Games the region is currently bidding on.

“We’ve got money in the bank and a community behind it,” he says. “It’s going to take longer than I wanted, but we’ve just got to get creative.”

kristyn.anthony@vicnews.com

Esquimalt High