The push to increase the number of public sports fields in Fauquier County is proceeding so swiftly that some officials are anticipating beginning some construction by summer.
That is the news the county Board of Supervisors will hear Jan. 18 during a work session on the $3.5 million initiative that has been on the fast track since late 1998, when the leaders of the county's youth sports leagues began speaking in one voice and lobbying for more fields.
Although weather delays are always possible, the fact that the fields are months ahead of schedule has heartened advocates who at one point were expecting a long campaign for a bond referendum and an arduous site-selection process.
"It's gone quickly. . . . The anticipation is very much like the week before Christmas. This is in grasping distance now," said Supervisor Joe Winkelmann (R-Center). "I would hope that we're turning dirt on these complexes by the first of June."
Winkelmann said the process has been accelerated because the citizen groups charged with finding suitable sites have breezed through the selection process. The supervisors will choose three sites from the list, one each for sports complexes for the southern, central and northern thirds of the county. Among the criteria for site selection was availability.
"They've been working very quietly and very assiduously to pull these three lists together," Winkelmann said.
The citizens panels sought sites larger than 25 acres within three miles each of Opal, Warrenton and Marshall. Anne Hall, a local real estate broker who chaired one of the panels, said, "We really kind of knocked this out faster than we thought we would have."
The potential sites were shown to the citizen group comprising representatives from the four local youth sports leagues behind the initiative. That group, the Sports Field Study Group, formed in November 1998 to address the lack of sports fields that has teams hard pressed to find places to play.
"We'd known that we needed these for a long time," said George Downes Jr., president of the group and leader of the local Babe Ruth Baseball league.
Officially, there are now about 57 fields for the more than 4,000 kids and roughly 200 teams in county sports leagues, but more than half of the fields are counted more than once because they serve more than one sport. Under the new initiative, about 10 fields would be built at each of the three new complexes.
After the sports group looked at the sites, the list went back to the county Parks and Recreation Board. Its chairman, Carl Bailey, said it will present the supervisors with four possible sites near Warrenton and six near Opal. Winkelmann said that because of the amount of work required to whittle down the list, the Marshall recommendations would come later.
Once the recommendations are received by the supervisors, Winkelmann said, they could direct County Administrator G. Robert Lee and County Attorney Paul S. McCulla to begin the acquisition process immediately.
Bailey said that is a potential sticking point. "You can't just run out and buy it overnight," he said. "You have to get the soil checks, and there are a lot of other things."
The process up to this point, however, has been streamlined. After a public hearing in late summer, when uniformed kids came to plead the case for new fields, the supervisors performed some public finance jujitsu to get the sports fields process rolling.
Downes said, "Our original proposal was that we were going to build a proposal and then make it into a bond referendum for [next] November's election."
But in September, the supervisors voted to take $3.5 million from the cash on hand in the construction fund for the new James G. Brumfield Elementary School and dedicate that to the sports fields. That money was replaced by a loan to the schools division from the Virginia Public School Authority.
Because the financing on that loan is expected to be less than what it would cost to borrow money for new sports fields, Winkelmann said, the county saved money in the arrangement.
"It's something that we've needed forever," Bailey said. "It looks like we're finally doing something about it."
Officials said they would not reveal the locations of the possible sites to discourage any speculators. One site that apparently will not be considered is the property just outside Warrenton where the Gold Cup steeplechase races were held before moving to Great Meadow in 1984.
In September, Warrenton Mayor George B. Fitch announced that he was nearing a deal with the owners of that land for a joint county-town sports complex. To his "surprise and chagrin," the 100-acre parcel was sold to a partnership led by local land-use lawyer Merle Fallon. He had represented the property's owners in a long-running feud with the town to have the land rezoned from agricultural to residential development use.
Fallon said he has been told that the parcel--which has a higher market value zoned for residential development--is not on the short list of sites.
Fitch said he still wants to piggyback his original proposal--for an indoor recreation center that would include a swimming pool--onto the county's Warrenton area site.
"We'll wait now until the county makes it's move," said Fitch, who predicted that the Warrenton Town Council would vote to use some of a $2 million surplus to build the center.