A Community Gets Active
Allen Fields in Angel Fire, New Mexico
By Rick Dandes
Ten months after the village of Angel Fire, N.M., opened Allen Fields, a $1.6 million multipurpose sports complex, it has already become a hub of recreational activity for community club sports, allowing for youth and adult softball and soccer, while also serving as practice fields for the nearby local high school and visiting college athletes.
An ambitious project first conceived by village officials in 2005, Allen Fields consists of an international-sized soccer field overlapping two smaller soccer fields and two softball fields. Take three laps around the warning track that surrounds the complex and you've run a mile.
"This amazing success story all began with a recreation committee that was appointed by our mayor, who was researching different activities we could build in our community," recalled Tracy Orr, Angel Fire sales and events manager. "We came up with the idea of a sports complex, with soccer fields that could also double as softball fields."
Financing, however, became a major problem, she explained. Angel Fire, because of its demographics and average income level, did not qualify for Community Development Block Grants, so it had to raise money by other means. Help eventually came from the New Mexico legislature in 2008, when it passed a 2.4 percent sports utility fee, assessed on all hotel room nights.
"That money went toward payment for the field," Orr said. "Then we got a loan for $1.575 million and built the field."
The 80 acres of land where Allen Fields is located was donated to the village by Angel Fire Resort, which owns the local ski area and golf course.
After the initial design was presented to village council, Lone Mountain Contracting, Bosque Farms, N.M., bid and won this project but found that their cost projections still took them over budget, explained R.C. Baldonado, a designer and project director with Lone Mountain.
"Committee members from Angel Fire approached us at a Municipal League Conference and asked if we had any ideas that could bring the construction cost down to meet their budget," he said. "With the help of some product manufacturers and Angel Fire, we worked together and came up with a new design that would meet all their needs and still fall within their budget appropriation."
The main challenge Baldonado and his firm encountered was coming up with a design that worked for both the construction budget needs and maintenance budget needs.
"The original architect had designed a facility that consisted of two softball fields and two soccer fields that were all separated. These fields were natural grass fields, and just that would have required maintenance at a cost of about $5,000 a year, which the city did not have.
The design Lone Mountain finally presented to village officials created a multipurpose field that could be used year-round.
"The use of artificial turf also cut down their maintenance budget and the need to reseed the field every couple years," Maldonado added. "It solved a lot of problems. The re-design also allowed Angel Fire to get the most bang for their buck by keeping the facility in continuous use."
The contractor also had to deal with the quirky weather of the Moreno Valley. "Around here," Orr said, "we have snowy winters. Rain begins in July. So we had sort of a short window to get the field built."
The actual construction began in September 2010, and most of that was just clearing the land. Allen Fields opened on July 13, 2011.
"From the very beginning, the field was used, and that has been very gratifying," Orr said. "I like the fact that it has a dual purpose and that it's not only for soccer. We have youth soccer every year, and we play most of those games in Taos. But we also have high school soccer and during the school year, when they have to practice, there have been up to 98 kids on that field at any one time, every single night. We also have a youth football league, and on the weekend, we have adult leagues playing soccer. I also held softball tournaments."
Orr said revenue is raised when the teams that use the field for practice pay a field usage fee. The village council approved a fee schedule for organized use of the complex. "We brought in a softball tournament, and the money that was collected for games went toward upkeep of the field," Orr said. The field, however, is available at no charge for casual use.
"Now that this first phase is all done, the field is everything I thought and hoped it would be. In fact, we'd like to start a second one. The original project design had two fields; one was the mirror image of the other, with a concession stand and picnic area in between. But of course, money is always an issue."
Meanwhile, recalling his time spent on the project, Baldonado said much could be learned from his experience. "First and foremost," he said, "using the right people who understand all the challenges and the needs of the project is key to getting what you need. It also helps get the project done at the right price."
A good lesson here, he said, is: Given the space you have, you don't necessarily have to focus on one sport or to make one group of people happy. There can be flexibility. "You can go further with your money by having a multi-sport facility," he said.
Recreational-park directors need to understand that not every contractor or architect has the experience to help design a facility that will meet their needs, Baldonado continued. He recommends finding the proper team through an organization like the Americans Sports Builders Association (ASBA).
"These are the people that have put in the time to become experts on various sports fields and events," he said.
"Finally, the best thing about this project is that the fields are being used all the time. People are really enjoying it," Baldonado said. "Kids will be playing soccer and softball and even practicing football at the same time and I like that. I like seeing kids out there enjoying the facility."
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