A project to bring artificial turf to Chestermere High School’s athletic field is on ice, but the football coaches spearheading the initiative still aim to upgrade the facility by constructing new locker rooms by the fall of 2022.
Retired Chestermere High School teacher and football coach Brian Utley presented to the Rocky View Schools (RVS) Board of Trustees at their June 17 meeting. During his delegation, Utley said the Chestermere Facility Upgrade Committee is hoping to raise $750,000 to support the construction of new locker rooms for Chestermere Lakers sports teams.
While the committee’s original goal was to convert the school’s natural-grass surface to artificial turf, Utley said the difficulty in securing matching grants for the project throughout the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a shift in priorities.
“Our project has had to change a little bit because of the economy and the pandemic,” he told the trustees. “What we've done is put the field turf part on hold for a little bit. We do hope to get that in the future, but right now, we'd like to focus on building a change room facility, because outdoor sports teams in Chestermere have nowhere to change inside right now.”
Utley was a Chestermere High School teacher and head football coach for 37 years. After retiring from his teaching career in 2016, he stayed involved with the Lakers – previously known as the Cowboys – football team in other ways, including as a director and sports coordinator for RVS.
Throughout his coaching career, Utley helped raise funds to upgrade Chestermere High School’s athletic field to the tune of $800,000. Improvements included the installation of floodlights, a spotter’s box, scoreboard, new football standards, proper soccer goals and bleachers. The field was renamed Utley Field in 2009 in honour of the long-time coach.
Back when he was coaching, Utley said his players were able to get dressed for practices and games in a Chestermere High School classroom that had been converted into a makeshift locker room. However, considering the school’s increased enrolment over the years, he said that room recently had to be re-converted back into a traditional classroom. Now, players get changed in either the gymnasium locker rooms or bathrooms.
Construction of the change rooms would cost about $750,000, according to Utley, who said he is asking RVS to contribute $250,000 toward the initiative. He added that is the same amount the public school district contributed to the construction of an artificial field turf field at Bow Valley High School roughly a decade ago.
“We really think this would be a huge benefit to the school, as well as the community,” he said. “I think once we get the change rooms in, it would be easier to raise money for the field turf.”
Also speaking as part of the delegation was Scott Ledieu, the current head coach of Chestermere High School’s football team. While his focus is the Lakers football team, Ledieu said the school’s other sports teams, including soccer and rugby programs, would benefit from having locker rooms as well.
“It would be giving opportunities to a lot of different kids in our school and our community to use something like this,” he said.
A former junior and university-level football player, Ledieu spoke about the team bonding that occurs in a proper dressing room.
“I had the opportunity to play a lot of football after high school, and the piece of that I remember the most is the time I spent in the locker room with my teammates, before and after practices,” he said. “We haven’t really had that opportunity with the last couple of groups.”
After the presentation, trustees accepted the delegation for information. Ward 2 (southeast Rocky View County) Trustee Patty Sproule brought up how a lack of sport-related amenities are a long-standing issue in the Chestermere community.
“My oldest daughter managed the football team under Brian's direction 15 years ago, and one of my youngest played rugby,” she said. “Even back then, this was a big issue.
“I know the school has grown considerably over that time, so I don't envy you struggling with this lack of space. Of course, a lack of space is one of our biggest challenges in RVS. I hope once the pandemic lets up and restrictions are less, the economy will allow for greater fundraising and the ability to match funds as well, so that something can get going. I'm cheering for you.”