Raith Rovers have confirmed their intention to install an artificial surface at Stark’s Park in time for the start of next season after submitting a formal planning application to Fife Council.
Plans to replace the existing grass pitch with a synthetic surface have been in place since last year’s takeover by Stark’s Park owner John Sim, whose ambition is to turn the ground into a community-use facility.
The first phase of the project is expected to cost in excess of £500,000, with further stadium redevelopments also in the pipeline, and while there are mixed feelings among the support, vice-chairman Dave Sinton believes it will be a positive step forward for the club.
“We regard it as a way of trying to make the club self-sustainable due to costs that we could save and extra income we could generate,” Mr Sinton told the Press.
“There must be at least 15 SPFL clubs now with synthetic pitches, and they all speak well of them.
“The manager, Barry Smith, also seems reasonably relaxed about playing on a synthetic surface. The players train on it the whole time.
“We also want to try to expand the support at Raith Rovers and we’re really anxious to make it a community club which maybe we haven’t really succeeed as well as we would like so far.
“We want to bring as many people as possible into the stadium, from walking football to youngsters, and anyone else in the commnity who would like to use the surface.”
Raith are hopeful that the planning application will be approved in time for work to start, and finish, during the upcoming close season.
Mr Sinton added: “We are hopeful of shoe-horning it in, but it will be pretty tight. We may need to ask the SPFL to start with an away game.
“If it’s not going to be possible then it will be delayed another year.”
Part of the longer term plans involve upgrading the stadium’s changing facilities and entertaining space.
Mr Sinton explained: “When you travel to away games it’s an eye-opener when you compare how old Stark’s Park is to the facilities at some our competitors.
“We’re very hemmed in by Pratt Street and the railway line so space is premium, but we’ve got architects looking at various possibilities, such as building in the corner between the South Stand and the railway, and building entertaining suites along the Railway Stand.
“However, the pitch is taking priority at the moment.”
Funds for the project will be sourced by Stark’s Park Properties.
“We’re confident that funds can be made available without any detriment to the club itself,” Mr Sinton said.
“SPP owns the stadium so the club will be a user of the stadium, like other people, but the club will clearly have security of tenure and perpetuity.”
John Sim also made comment this week, adding that extra work is required on pitch surroundings to meet regulations.
“Currently the recommended gold standard pitch size is 105m by 68m with a 4m runoff,” he said.
“This is bigger than our current pitch size so to comply we would have to make significant alterations to the pitch surrounds, which we are currently investigating.
“We will also need to replace the floodlights at some future point.”
Mr Sim also insisted the promotion remains the “number one priority”, adding: “This being said, the stadium and the pitch have been neglected over an extended period and need considerable investment.
“No one said it would be easy.”