Just as they have since January, the Three Village Soccer Club and Stony Brook University are still trying to hammer out a deal over the use of the Three Village Soccer Park at the University's South P Lot.
The club's current permit allowing use of the fields – the construction of which was paid for by the club and completed in 1999, and which the club pays to operate and maintain – expires at the end of November.
For the University, it's a matter of quality-of-life for the students who pay tuition and fees. University officials, who recently unveiled a new $40 million dollar indoor recreational facility, have said the students playing on club sports teams and in intramurals are in dire need of space for practices and games.
University spokeswoman Lauren Sheprow said the Three Village Soccer Club currently uses 25.7 acres of state land at Stony Brook. By contrast, she said, the Division I athletic programs use 13.5 acres, while club sports use 6.7 acres. She said the field space began to be a concern when the Three Village Soccer Club began to charge Stony Brook students for use of the fields.
"For all the students who are paying to go to school here and paying fees, they should have access to the facilities on campus," Sheprow said.
Mitch Pally, the president of the soccer club, said the students were initially charged a $65-per-game maintenance fee, which would go towards striping the field and other routine tasks, that the club eventually refunded.
According to a draft of the agreement proposed by the University, the school wants to use Fields 1, 2, 3, and 4 for its students' sports activities, and would convert those four current grass fields into one turf field and two grass fields with inward-facing lights. Sheprow said the lights would extend the period of time each day when the fields can be used, and that the Three Village Soccer Club could use those fields when not in use by Stony Brook students.
But administrators of the Three Village Soccer Club say the University's use of those four fields – there are four more, fields 5 through 8, which would be reserved for the soccer club – would displace many of its teams and activities which have taken place there since the first field was constructed in the late 1980s. In exchange, the University is offering the club space on Stony Brook Road near the intersection of Oxhead Road, which Pally said would need to be renovated into appropriate fields like the ones it created at the South P Lot.
According to Pally, at the heart of the problem are two key issues. The soccer club's administrators want the university to agree to a 15-year revocable permit for its use of the fields, and it wants the University to temporarily suspend the annual permit fee of approximately $60,000 which the club pays each year so that it can build appropriate facilities at the Stony Brook Road property. He said it would cost about $300,000 to build those new facilities, and said the club has already spent more than $1 million over the past three decades to build, maintain, and operate the current soccer park.
"We are trying very, very hard to make this work. We understand the university’s need. I hope they understand our need," Pally said. "All of our money basically comes from the community. ... All we’re asking them to do is make us whole and to give us a permit long enough to allow us to make a long term commitment to this community."
Derek Cope, a student who is president of the University's Sports Club Council, which includes 30 member teams serving more than 1,000 students, said use of the soccer park would enable students to lead healthier lives with the proper facilities for outdoor recreation.
"Just having the ability to have that space is pretty important to students," Cope said. "For the past couple of years, excluding last spring and this fall, we had less than the size of two football fields for all the sports clubs to use."
On any given night, he said, there could be five or six clubs holding practices. Some of those clubs are as large as 70 players, like the rugby team for example, Cope said. And intramural sports on campus, which is a separate entity from the club sports, also uses the same space.
You have different groups "fighting for little pockets of space," he said. "Not only is that inconvenient, but it’s also dangerous. If a lacrosse ball flies into a soccer practice, that’s pretty dangerous."
The university has offered a five-year revocable permit agreement, and Pally said the university initially told the soccer club that the state comptroller's office would not allow a permit for a longer period of time. However, in a letter to State Assemb. Steve Englebright, D-Setauket, New York State's First Deputy Comptroller Peter Grannis said that a 15-year revocable permit could be a possibility based on past precedents. Englebright declined to comment publicly on the soccer field issues.
Sheprow said from the University's standpoint, a five-year revocable permit is reasonable.
"In the past these permits have been one- or two-year renewable permits," she said. "... Five years is quite frankly an extended period of time for a revocable permit of any kind, especially based on the University's history with the Three Village Soccer Club."
Prior to the development of the Three Village Soccer Park, that part of campus was a wooded area and the site of a sump, according to Michael Witower, who served as the club's president for four years during the 1980s.
"Those fields have been made to be among the best natural soccer fields on Long Island," Witower said. "We’ve put so much money into this thing. ... It really doesn’t go down well with the community."
A community meeting about the situation is set for 7:30 p.m. on Monday at W.S. Mount Elementary School in Stony Brook. Parents and club officials have begun circulating petitions, like this one online, to help plead the club's case. Pally said the university has been invited, as well as Englebright and State Sen. John Flanagan, R-East Northport.
Some members of the soccer club's board said they feel the University is not making good on its sentiments of wanting to be a good neighbor in the case of the soccer fields.
"It is not a compromise," said Andrew Sloat, a board member and father of two kids who play soccer in the club. "... It is an unfair offer and we are left trying to raise a large sum of money while we watch the college play on the fields we built."
Sheprow, however, said the university is negotiating in good faith.
"The university is very concerned about the Three Village Soccer Club and maintaining this relationship with the community. There is no desire to see that come to an end," she said. "At the same time, we are here because of the students. The students are the University's first priority. The new revocable permit presented to the Three Village Soccer Club accommodates both."
From the standpoint of the Stony Brook student sports clubs, Cope said they would like to see more collaboration.
"I wouldn’t go as far to say as the sports clubs want a complete takeover of the fields. I would just say the more access, the better," he said. "I would want to express the feeling of willingness to work together from the sports clubs. We all play team sports. Teamwork is important to us."
Editor's note: Andrew Sloat is the husband of Kings Park Patch editor Jennifer Sloat.
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