Priority for schools' synthetic turf to be decided

At Play

August 08, 2007|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,Special to The Sun

The Anne Arundel County school board is expected to decide next week which high schools will be next to get synthetic turf athletic fields.

Construction is scheduled to begin next summer on the $8.8 million project to put the synthetic Safety Turf fields at 11 of the county's 12 public high schools. Broadneck High's field was completed last year.

The Board of Education will set up on Aug. 15 a usage agreement - times when the fields will be used - and decide the first to get them over a four-year period. The order of installation is to be determined on an annual basis.

This year's county budget set aside $2.2 million to start on the installation of the fields, which can be used more frequently than grass fields and are easier to maintain.

County Executive John R. Leopold said it is a priority.

"I think our buildings and our facilities have been underutilized," he said. "These turf fields will be utilized by the schools and the communities around them."

Leopold said about 80 percent of the money for this project comes from the state, specifically from Program Open Space, which helps fund Maryland's parks and conservation areas. Leopold also said that money from Program Open Space is being used to install an ice rink at Quiet Waters Park.

Elsewhere in the region, Baltimore County has begun a pilot program with plans to put artificial turf on the football field at Catonsville High School and at Seminary Park.

The Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks is conducting a similar project with fields in parks.

Broadneck High took care of most things itself when putting in its artificial turf field in the spring last year. The school and North Point High in Charles County were the only state public schools with artificial turf at the time.

Broadneck received $125,000 from recreation and parks and raised about $600,000 on its own to pay for the field.

The tentative plan is for three playing fields to be put in each of the next three years, with two more to be installed the fourth year. Parking, lighting and other infrastructure are in place.

Safety Turf can be used almost every day. Grass and dirt fields are used about 50 days a year.

The artificial turf can't freeze or turn to mud. It requires no watering, mowing or line-painting. Maintenance includes sweeping and grooming.

Franklin Chaney, recreation administrator for the Department of Recreation and Parks, said it should take about four weeks to install each field. The schools would likely use the fields during weekdays, and Department of Recreation and Parks programs should be able to use them on weekends and at night, something they cannot do nearly as much now. Weather cancellations would be limited.

"The thought is that they're getting limited use out of stadium fields," Chaney said. "But with this, they can use it for gym class and every night of the week and weekends and summer.

"It's just a win-win situation for the school board and recreation and parks. To me, it means real smart government. Everything just makes sense."

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