On June 22 a patch of grass at the Pflugerville Little League Complex burst into flames during a tournament game.

Electricians determined the fire was sparked by 480 volts of electricity coming from a shorted underground wire in the field lighting system, which Little League President Michael Owens said is in need of repair.

Along with new lights, the complex also needs working scoreboards, plumbing system repairs and more space for the 45 baseball and softball teams to practice, Owens said.

Pflugerville officials are acutely aware of the need for new athletic facilities for the city’s growing youth and adult sports programs, said Mayor Jeff Coleman, adding that he receives phone calls about the issue weekly. But finding the appropriate location for an $11 million sports complex voters approved in a 2014 bond election has proved complicated.

The city nearly entered into design and construction contract negotiations with engineering company Halff Associates in the spring but withdrew after staff and City Council members realized the proposed athletic complex location at the Randig Tract property off Weiss Lane would likely be too small for Pflugerville’s expanding population, officials said.

“In looking at properties and talking with staff, we came to the realization we really need to start from ground zero to identify parcels that we can develop for athletic facilities,” Mayor Pro Tem Wayne Cooper said. [polldaddy poll=9013250]

To give local sports leagues immediate relief while the search continues for an athletic complex site, City Council approved a $1.4 million set of practice fields near the city’s water treatment plant off Weiss Lane in May. Parks and Recreation Director James Hemenes said the fields could be ready for use by fall 2016.

Why a sports complex?

In a report presented to Pflugerville officials in December 2013, Halff Associates estimated there are approximately 2,500 youth sports participants in Pflugerville and that the annual demand for practice and game time would double to about 1,740 hours by 2023.

Currently, the city’s three youth football leagues rent space from Pflugerville ISD middle schools for games, said Jeff Campbell, CEO of the Pflugerville Hawks youth football league. The free fields in Pflugerville are not equipped with game lights, and the high school fields are too expensive to rent, he said.

“From a football perspective, we are in dire need to have a facility for our kids so we can be competitive with the surrounding areas,” Campbell said. “Round Rock opens the doors to the high schools [for its youth football teams], so it’s hard for us to compete with Round Rock and Manor. It’s hard for us to keep our fees down and to survive.”

The Hawks’ track and field athletes, many of them football players, have to train in Hutto because there is no track in Pflugerville, Campbell said.

“It’s not fair to have children running on concrete track,” he said.

Charles Simpson, president of Pflugerville Youth Football Panthers, said he spends about 10 percent of his budget on field rentals, which prevents him from offering scholarships to some students.

“The ideal situation down here would be if we had space with three football fields: one major field then the two side fields,” he said.

Pflugerville Little League funds its complex independently through membership dues, concessions and fundraisers and has been pushing to host more tournaments to raise money, Owens said. But it has still proved challenging for the organization to pay its electricity bill at $3,000 to $5,000 a month, and funding new scoreboards to replace the broken ones seems a lofty goal with a price tag of $15,000 to $20,000, he said.

Location, location, location

When Pflugerville staffers and council determined the Randig Tract might not be large enough to accommodate the type of athletic complex needed, they began to consider alternative sites—including those the city does not currently own, Assistant City Manager Trey Fletcher said.Pflugerville begins new search for city athletic complex site

“Our community is poised to grow significantly, so going to a landlocked facility [the city owns] is attractive in the near term, but it may not be what the community needs in the long term,” he said.

Based on community surveys, stakeholder meetings and analysis, Halff Associates recommended the Pflugerville athletic complex include four baseball fields, four softball fields, four lighted football fields and 10 to 12 soccer fields.

Fletcher said Halff’s research and conceptual plan could be used as a basis for the new athletic complex, but that the final product could also look very different depending on the location chosen. Fletcher said the city will likely have to purchase a new piece of property for the complex, although he could not reveal specific locations under consideration.

Coleman referred to the need for a sports complex as a “No.1 priority.”

“We need this done yesterday,” he said.

Weiss Lane practice fields

The 25 acres of land near the water treatment facility off Weiss Lane is scheduled to be transformed into three practice areas for local sports teams, Hemenes said. Two large turf “pods” could each be divided into two or four practice fields if necessary, and a third turf area could accommodate smaller groups, according to city documents.

The practice fields proposal also includes parking spots and portable restrooms, according to the documents. Lights, goals and seating would need to be provided by groups using the fields, Hemenes said.

City Council did not identify a funding source when it approved the practice fields, but Fletcher said it would not come from the bond approved last year.

Claudio Carrasco, executive vice president for the Pflugerville Area Youth Soccer League select program, said PAYSL has about 140 teams that could benefit from additional field space.

“Right now we are only able to provide practice space for the select program,” Carrasco said. “Most of our younger teams from the age of 4 to 8 or 9 don’t have space. They have to either go to schools or find a park where they can practice, and that becomes a problem when it becomes darker earlier.”

But not all club or youth sports programs in the city are planning to utilize the proposed practice fields.

Campbell said the fields will not be useful to the area youth football leagues because what they really need is game space—equipped with lights and seating for spectators.

“If it doesn’t have lights, where’s the benefit?” he said. “Really [the practice fields] are no different than what we’re using now.”

Owens said Pflugerville Little League is also unlikely to benefit from the new fields because the teams require dirt mounds, infields and lights.
Shelby Shellenberger, president of the Pflugerville Baseball youth league, which registers about 250 players per season, said his group would prefer another baseball diamond to play games but will take what it can get.

“If given the opportunity [to use the Weiss Lane practice fields], I would jump at the chance,” he said. “I can drag a portable mound out there. We won’t be picky about it.”

For additional coverage from our media partner KVUE, watch Pflugerville looks for athletic complex sites