Installing synthetic turf to replace the red-dirt playing fields at city-owned Bickel-Schmidt Sports Complex would keep the 110-acre facility competitive with others around the state, according to Roger Bixenman, superintendent of the Hays Recreation Commission.

“We see more and more complexes putting in turf fields,” said Bixenman during a recent briefing to the Hays City Commission. He cited a new synthetic-turf complex opening in Goddard near Wichita as an example.

“That’s guaranteed play when they have complexes like that,” he told the commission. “So it may be harder and harder for us unless we switch to turf, which we’ve talked about as a board, to guarantee the play.”

Hays Mayor Shaun Musil said he’d like to see the red dirt on the eight softball/baseball fields replaced with turf.

“I know it’s a funding issue, but I’d like to see us do that, sooner rather than later,” Musil said during the briefing from Bixenman and Hays Parks Director Jeff Boyle at the commission’s Jan. 16 work session.

Hays City Commissioner Sandy Jacobs expressed support for the idea at both the commission’s Jan. 16 and 23 sessions.

Boyle reported during the Jan. 16 briefing that in 2019 there were 2,426 games played at the complex, with 9,988 participants.

The facility, which hosts a variety of adult and youth tournaments and games from baseball to soccer to flag football, brought in revenue of $249,369 in 2019.

Direct expenses were $194,220, and administrative expenses were $43,863. In 2019, Hays Rec, which operates the facility, showed a profit of $11,286 on the multi-field facility, they said.

“Hays Rec has done a good job of taking a good portion of those profits and reinvesting them back in,” said Hays City Manager Toby Dougherty. He noted that Hays Rec in 2018 split the cost 50/50 for $100,000 in new playground equipment and safety netting.

The total annual cost to the city for the complex in 2019 was $205,255 for maintenance and upkeep, Boyle said.

That included, in 2018, the $50,000 for playground equipment, as well as infield improvements to the southwest quad, which included applying red dirt and doing laser-grading. In 2019, the northeast quad got red dirt and laser-grading, Boyle said. Both years, there were new windscreens installed along the bottom of the fences out to the outfield to stop wind blowing at ground level.

Expenses should go down this year, he said.

“For 2020, I’m anticipating the $165,000 to $175,000 range,” Boyle said.

The red dirt situation is still not perfect, but it has made an improvement. There are still challenges with keeping it in place, Boyle said.

“The only time we really have issues with this blowing is during a tournament or games. When that happens and the players are out there and the dust is blowing, we cannot turn the water on to water those down,” Boyle said. “At that point it’s disheartening, but we have to watch it blow during those periods.”

Commissioner Sandy Jacobs asked the managers if they have a ballpark figure for installing turf, and Boyle said yes.

“Whats the number?’ Jacobs asked.

“$1.6 or $1.8 million for all eight fields,” Boyle said, to include the bull pens.

“It’s a lot of money,” Jacobs said, “but it’s not a scary lot of money … This is a great facility and if we can enhance it and not lose any ballgames, we’ll get more for our money and it’ll pay for itself.”

Turf is definitely a trend in other cities, Bixenman said.

The Bickel-Schmidt complex’s total economic impact in 2018 in Ellis County was $1.98 million, according to a new study by FHSU faculty.

The study was led by Tom Johansen, FHSU professor of finance, with assistance from Emily Brett, associate professor of finance, and Sam Schreyer, associate professor of economics.

The analysis looks at the ripple effect through the Ellis County economy of every dollar spent for motels, dining, gas, shopping and incidentals as a result of the complex, Johansen said. It included data too of the number of tournaments, teams and players, as well as tourism data from the state, and assumes people coming from 45 miles away stay overnight.

“When we have tournaments and attendees and participants come to town, they bring their money too and they spend their money here,” Johansen said. “That’s basically what we’re going to estimate is what that money does and how it circulates through the economy. This is sort of like the addition to the GDP of Ellis County.”

The Leontief model for economic analysis, developed in 1936, is a standard one used by many institutions and industries, Johansen said.

The estimate, which includes county-level data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, includes the indirect effect too, which calculates how businesses and their employees spend the money they get.

With a multiplier of 1.57 for every dollar spent, Johansen said, there’s an estimated $1.5 million in spending that supports a total of 31 jobs.

“You can see that the impact was quite large,” he said.

City Commissioner Michael Berges said 45 miles seemed too short a distance to him for people to stay overnight.

“If I were in Salina at a tournament, I’d come home. Or if I were at Emporia, I’d come home,” Berges said.

But some tournaments in the data were as many as three days, Johansen said, and City Commissioner Ron Mellick agreed that it’s reasonable to expect people to stay.

“It also depends on when you play the next day, if you play at night, and then you’re losers bracket and you have to play first thing in the morning,” Mellick said.

“The overall outlook is we’re moving in a positive direction,” Boyle said. “Our goal is to see these numbers increase.”