Artificial turf debate surfaces during review of Kennedy High addition

Artificial turf debate surfaces during review of Kennedy High addition

$20 million project to be completed in summer of 2022

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A site plan for an addition at John F. Kennedy High School

via MCPS

Before the Montgomery County Planning Board last week approved a $20 million addition to John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring, there was debate about artificial turf fields.

The 17,000-square-foot addition is a joint venture between the school system and the county Department of Health and Human Services. The addition is meant to increase academic programs available to students at the school, which features a mix of academy and international baccalaureate programs. Academy programs include broadcast journalism, business management and health professions.

The project includes replacing a grass athletic field with a turf field, a point of contention during Thursday’s Planning Board meeting.

Two local residents — Sheldon Fishman and Diana Conway — testified that a turf field should not be installed at the site, citing health, safety and environmental concerns. The fields get too hot and make athletes more prone to injuries and concussions, they said.

Additionally, Conway and Fishman were concerned about the recycling plans when turf fields are replaced.

Planning Board Vice Chair Natali Fani-Gonzalez agreed.

“I do agree synthetic fields are bad,” Fani-Gonzalez said. “We should not have them.”

Fani-Gonzalez added a comment to the Planning Board report that said MCPS should not install the turf field, but it did not receive majority support. Planning Board recommendations about school projects are not legally binding.

Twelve MCPS schools have artificial turf fields, according to the school system website.

The Department of Health and Human Services is expected to manage a 3,300-square-foot wellness center that will be available to students and their families. It will provide a variety of services, including sports physicals, immunizations, primary care, vision and hearing, and mental health care.

Similar school-based wellness centers are at Northwood, Gaithersburg, Wheaton and Watkins Mill high schools. Services offered at each varies slightly based on the needs of the students in that community and their siblings.

School-based wellness centers are generally implemented in communities with high concentrations of low-income families, according to MCPS officials. About half of students enrolled at Kennedy are eligible for free or reduced-price meals from the school.

“This is absolutely a location that would serve the community well,” said Seth Adams, director of the MCPS Department of Facilities Management.

The overall project will add space for an additional 429 students to bring Kennedy’s capacity to 2,221 students. It will include eight classrooms, science labs, a school store and administrative offices.

Construction is expected to be completed in the summer of 2022.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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