School board authorizes $700K replacement of Walter Johnson turf field
Low bid did not meet recycling requirements
Walter Johnson High School
The Montgomery County school board this month authorized a nearly $700,000 project to replace the artificial turf athletic field at Walter Johnson High School, bypassing the low bid because it did not have an adequate recycling plan for the current field.
The $691,899 contract awarded to Burke Construction Group Inc. of Florida is to replace the 10-year-old field at Walter Johnson in the next year.
“We definitely have to do it right now. This is the last year we can use the field,” MCPS Chief Operating Officer Andy Zuckerman told the school board during a recent meeting. “… This is just a safety issue. The Walter Johnson field can’t be used after this year, so a new field has to be put in, whether it’s this field or not.”
The low bid, submitted by Sprinturf, a company MCPS has contracted with in the past, did not have “what we would consider a true recycling plan,” according to Seth Adams, director of the MCPS Department of Facilities Management.
The recycling plan from Burke Construction was not immediately available, but MCPS plans to post on its website how the field will be recycled, the location of the recycling plant and what “the consumer product will look like post-recycling,” Adams said.
Eleven MCPS schools have artificial turf fields, according to the school system website, with a 12th currently being installed at Julius West Middle School in Rockville.
Critics harbor doubts about the safety of the artificial fields and have raised concerns about the mineral substance used to fill the spaces between synthetic fibers.
When Richard Montgomery High School’s turf field was replaced in 2018, some community members alleged that much of the field was thrown away instead of recycled.
MCPS at the time denied the allegation. School officials said the entire field was reused by a recreational facility in the White Marsh area and “others outside of Maryland.”
Another problem, some student-athletes say, is that turf field materials at some schools have caused a rise in sports injuries including “turf burn” and recurring lacerations.
Adams told the board that MCPS took a “very deep dive” into the biomechanics of the new Walter Johnson field and “feel very confident it will perform at the level we expect.”
School board member Pat O’Neill said she is surprised by how many people use the Walter Johnson field.
“Just an observation from someone who drives by the school a lot: That field is used so much,” O’Neill said. “It’s astounding how at odd hours in the middle of February, you’ll see lights on and kids playing.”
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at email@example.com