PORTAGE | The Portage Parks Department is bringing a little of the outside indoors.
The department recently bought portable artificial turf that can be rolled out to cover nearly the entire floor of the Oakwood Grand Hall at Woodland Park.
"It transforms the environment for kids," said Assistant Superintendent Colin Highlands.
It also offers opportunities for increased recreational activities during inclement weather. Because the artificial grass is padded and the grass provides traction, it also is safer than playing on the typical gym floor.
Highlands said the gymnasium-sized hall has been underutilized for years and officials were looking at ways to improve demands for the facility. The artificial turf, which is rolled out from nine 450-pound rolls and attached with Velcro, cost $20,000. While it took nearly two hours to roll out the turf the first time, it took only 10 minutes to roll it back off the floor.
Highlands, who believes crews will get faster with practice, said it will be rolled out Sunday mornings through Wednesday evenings.
"We did not use any taxpayer dollars. It was funded through program fees," Highlands said.
Presently it is used for indoor soccer leagues, dodge ball and cheerleading classes. Highlands said officials plan on increasing programming and want to rent the facility to potential users.
"Soccer is the most popular sport for youth in America," indoor soccer director D.J. Cole said, adding that winter usually is a dead period for the sport, but with a facility like this, it can be offered year-round. In addition to parks soccer, the high school teams and premiere club teams also can use the facility.
Once the turf is rolled up, Highlands said, the room is available for banquets and receptions over the weekend.
"There is such a demand for indoor recreation facilities, I believe we can fill it every night," Highlands said about increasing usage.
The next goal is to buy a netting system to protect spectators around the artificial field. That will cost about $12,000, and Highlands said officials are looking for sponsors to help pay for the system.