$500,000 synthetic turf offer hits snag

Options still pondered despite difficulty in talks between Dancel, county

`I'm still committed'

Howard County

April 30, 2004|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

A Columbia business executive's offer to pay $500,000 to install synthetic turf this spring on a heavily used playing field at Cedar Lane Park has been sidelined, perhaps permanently.

Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks' officials say they were unable to reach agreement with businessman Bernie Dancel, who made the offer to upgrade a field that has been used frequently by a youth football organization he helped found. It would have been the second-largest gift the county recreation program ever received.

"It's dead," Gary J. Arthur, the recreation department's director, said when asked the status of the negotiations.

But Dancel indicated he has not given up.

"I wouldn't say it's a dead issue entirely," he said. "It's just the part that would have had the field ready later this spring."

Both men had sounded optimistic about reaching agreement when the offer became public last month.

Dancel is founder and chief executive of Ascend One Corp., which provides services to the debt-counseling industry. He also is a financial backer of the Columbia Ravens, the youth football organization that he helped found and in which he coaches. The Ravens were a frequent user of that field late last summer and during the fall.

Why talks broke off this month was unclear, with neither man wanting to go into detail. It was not clear, either, whether the extent of the Ravens' use of a new field was at issue.

Arthur said that Dancel "gave a little bit, and we gave a little, but he just wanted more than we felt we're able to give, considering the commitments we have with other organizations. I don't know if it was a miscommunication, or what."

When each man heard last week from a reporter of the other's response to the break-off in negotiations, each sounded more conciliatory. Dancel also said he would possibly be willing to increase the size of his donation.

"There are other longer-term options that can be applied, and I'm starting to explore them," Dancel said. "I'm still committed, through my family's foundation, to doing some thing, some time. But because of the money involved, I want to make sure that we have the maximum benefit for the community."

Told of Dancel's statement, Arthur seemed surprised but said quickly: "We'd be more than happy to continue talking with him. We're not easily going to pass up a donation of that size, as long as it will benefit the whole community."

Dancel said one option he expects to pursue with the county would involve putting synthetic turf - and lights - on one field at Schooley Mill Park in Fulton. That park has several grass playing fields that also get heavy use by youth football organizations in Howard County.

Willing to pay extra

Unlike playing fields in Cedar Lane Park, those at Schooley Mill do not have lights, so can be used only in daylight. Dancel said he would be willing to pay extra for lights at that park so that field could be used longer.

The recreation department, though, was cool to the idea, Dancel said, adding that he was told by the recreation department that such an arrangement "is not in the cards right now."

Arthur said that was correct.

Lighting is a politically delicate issue for the recreation agency, which wants to add lights and two synthetic surfaces to fields being built at the new Western Regional Park at Carrs Mill Road and Route 97 in Glenwood. Money to do so is in a budget request for the fiscal year that begins July 1, but the sum still needs County Council approval. Some park neighbors object to the lights, especially, but several large youth sports groups are backing the proposal, most recently in a public hearing April 22 before the County Council.

`Open up more fields'

Long term, Dancel said, "the idea is to open up more fields, which are in short supply for the hours that youth and even adult teams need, by expanding the hours they can be used. Synthetic turf means they can be played on in rain, for instance, and with lights they can be used at night, as well. And there is very little maintenance. So if we were to do a field at Schooley Mill, the county would be getting a free field. It's a guaranteed money-maker."

Dancel said he respects commitments the agency has with other sports groups for use of the Cedar Lane field, some of which have been in force for years.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.