Replacement of Artificial Turf at Richard Montgomery High Raises Concerns

School officials discuss issue; board approves funding for B-CC field

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The field at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville.
FILE PHOTO BY JACOB BOGAGE

Montgomery County Public Schools started the work of removing the artificial turf field at Richard Montgomery High School earlier this month—and immediately attracted criticism from the Parents’ Coalition of Montgomery County.

The school system is replacing the 10-year-old artificial turf field with a new artificial field with organic infill.

The old turf system, including the fibers and rubber infill pellets, was to be repurposed as a “continuation of the overall lifecycle” of the materials, MCPS Chief Operating Officer Andrew Zuckerman told the school community in an email announcing the start of the work July 21.

But members of the Parents’ Coalition, a local advocacy group, who have been going to the school to watch over the removal and transport, have questioned whether the materials were being recycled or tossed out, posting photos of rolls of turf in dumpsters and piles of plastic pellets on pavement to the group’s website and social media accounts.

In a Monday blog post, the coalition shared photos of three dumpsters at the school property in Rockville and alleged that 12 tons of artificial turf had been sent to a landfill in Brunswick, Virginia. The post said that the dumpsters were evidence that the artificial turf was being thrown out instead of recycled.

Superintendent Jack Smith asked Zuckerman to read a statement at Monday’s school board meeting to address the concerns.

Zuckerman said the board had received additional questions over the weekend about the disposal of the material, reiterated that the field would be reused, and said officials would create a full, written explanation of the removal process as requested by board member Jill Ortman-Fouse, who posed a series of questions to Smith in a memorandum.

“Consistent with the clear policy direction of the Board of Education and consistent with the MCPS value of environmental stewardship, our contract for replacement of the RMHS field included a requirement that the existing field be recycled to the maximum extent possible,” Zuckerman’s statement said. “In this case, the entire field system, which includes the carpet and infill material, is being reused by a recreational facility in the White Marsh area and others outside of Maryland. Reuse is a core element of the ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ approach to waste management. Product reuse is permissible under state and local regulations; prevents materials from being disposed of in the waste stream; and precludes the need for additional new materials to be generated.”

Zuckerman also said that “a very small fraction” of debris from the full field was cleared and transported to a waste transfer station, where it will be sorted for recycling or disposal.

He also addressed the controversy created over the field removal:

“It is unfortunate that there is a small group of individuals attempting to mislead and misinform our community about this issue. This behavior distracts from our core mission of teaching and learning. I am particularly troubled by the fact that in this case we are fielding questions about a paintball facility’s reuse of artificial turf in White Marsh, Maryland, when here in Montgomery County locally we are focused on creating opportunities for all students to learn and achieve at high levels. We welcome serious debate on instructional and operational issues; at the same time we know that accountability only truly results when all stakeholders hold to high standards of accuracy, reliability, and constructive communication.”

The turf field at Richard Montgomery High School has attracted controversy before.

The field failed a firmness test in 2016, prompting safety concerns.

The Richard Montgomery field was installed in 2008 at an estimated cost of around $1 million—with the turf itself costing about $450,000. At the time, FieldTurf, the contractor, was using a plastic fiber known as Duraspine, which is noted in the MCPS purchase order with the company. In 2011, FieldTurf sued the Chinese company, TenCate, that made the grass fibers for many of its Duraspine fields because FieldTurf found the fibers withered away under ultraviolet light, causing them to break off, which had been reported at Richard Montgomery’s field.

In June, the board awarded a $562,721 contract to Sprinturf LLC for the replacement of the artificial field.

The new field is expected to be in place before the start of the new school year.

 

Funding approved for B-CC field―and an additional fundraising effort

The Board of Education also made a technical vote on Monday to approve a $1.45 million change order for the Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School athletic fields project.

Zuckerman said the money and project had already been approved through the school system’s capital budget program, but the funding needed to be considered as a change order because the contract that was initially approved did not include work on the school’s athletic fields.

The $1.45 million contract includes installation of an artificial turf field and required infrastructure.

Ortman-Fouse pulled the item for separate discussion during the board meeting.

One of her concerns was that the project includes organic infill, which is more expensive than the infill used in fields that have been installed in the county in the past.

Part of the increased cost may be covered by the school’s families.

The board also considered on Monday approval of a fundraising request from the Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School Booster Club, which intends to raise more than $50,000 to contribute to the turf fields and an improved scoreboard.

Ortman-Fouse reiterated past concerns that some schools have greater ability to fundraise for enhanced facilities than others, which creates an uneven playing field for county students and athletes.

Smith said county PTA programs and the school system are looking at ways to improve equity in fundraising. Similar concerns were raised in June, before the board voted to install artificial turf fields at Albert Einstein High School in Kensington and Julius West Middle School in Rockville.

The change order for the B-CC project was approved by five board members: Jeanette E. Dixon, Judith Docca, Michael A. Durso, Shebra L. Evans and Patricia O’Neill. Ortman-Fouse and student member Ananya Tadikonda abstained, while Rebecca Smondrowski was absent.

The booster club’s approval for fundraising was approved as part of a consent calendar.

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