County Council Committee Recommends Against School System’s Plan for Adding Artificial Turf Fields

County Council Committee Recommends Against School System’s Plan for Adding Artificial Turf Fields

School system officials had backed the plan as a way to bring "turf equity" to all county high schools

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The artificial turf field at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville

Jacob Bogage

The County Council’s Education Committee on Monday unanimously recommended that $11 million the school system had proposed to pay for new artificial turf fields be diverted instead to school building renovations and expansions.

The three-member committee made its recommendation, based on a recommendation from council staff, after just a few minutes of discussion.

“When it comes to the concerns about affordability right now at a time when we don’t have a lot of capacity in our capital improvements program unfortunately, I don’t think this is going to be a priority,” committee Chairman Craig Rice said.

Upon approving the school system’s $1.73 billion capital budget request in November, then-Board of Education President Patricia O’Neill said the $11 million in artificial turf field funding was a matter of “turf equity.”

Six of 25 high schools in Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) have artificial turf fields, which can cost between $1.2 million and $1.5 million to install. At Thomas S. Wootton High School in Rockville and in the case of a seventh artificial turf field in the works for Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, the fields were paid for with significant financial support from booster clubs and outside groups such as recreational soccer leagues.

Rice said Monday he understood the concern that some high schools without significant fundraising ability would be unable to afford turf fields.

“Some of our playing fields at other high schools that didn’t necessarily have a strong booster club or strong PTA wouldn’t get the same equitable access to these artificial turf fields,” Rice said.

MCPS said any new artificial turf fields would include alternatives to the widely-used crumb rubber infill that has raised concerns about possibly carcinogenic chemicals. The council passed a resolution last year calling for artificial turf fields filled only with organic materials.

While Council member Marc Elrich said Monday he still has health concerns related to material in the artificial turf fields, the council committee’s decision primarily came down to money.

County Executive Ike Leggett recommended spending $1.57 billion on school system capital projects over the next six years, well short of the school system’s request. Facing those constraints, council staff recommended the $11 million designated for artificial turf fields be allocated for the school system’s list of revitalization and expansion projects.

Past revitalization and expansion projects at Paint Branch High School in Silver Spring and Gaithersburg High School have included new artificial turf fields.

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