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Churchill Turf Field Booted Ahead

Private money to pay for field in exchange for “priority access;” Montgomery Soccer challenges the decision.

Winston Churchill’s future artificial turf stadium field has a green light, despite ongoing challenge and controversy.

On Monday, July 28, the County Council’s Education Committee recommended approval of $1.3 million for installation of the field, expected to be completed by spring of 2015. The money will come from a private sports club and Churchill boosters. The private funds allow for the construction of the new field without waiting for the county construction process.

“The Wootton High School project … is very similar in structure to the Churchill High School proposal which was the first MCPS artificial turf stadium field project not in conjunction with already planned construction,” according to Council staff.

The full County Council is expected to officially approve the resolution Tuesday, July 29, after the Almanac’s presstime.

“Given the shortage of playing fields available in the county and the constant demand for use of our school fields, the artificial turf of the stadium field is a solution that will provide safer playing conditions for Montgomery County Public School students while allowing many hours of community use,” according to Joshua P. Starr, superintendent of schools.

“It’s our responsibility to make sure we provide a number of fields for our kids,” said Council President Craig Rice, during Monday’s one hour hearing in Rockville.

MSI Seeks ‘Transparency, Fairness’ in Legal Challenge

From Montgomery Soccer Inc. letter to County Council dated July 22, 2014:

“MSI has been prejudiced and harmed by the failure of the Board [of Education] to follow its own administrative regulations and procedures, the irregularities in the process by which the decisions were made … and the conflict of interest in the award of the Churchill Request for Proposal.

“This, however, is an extremely important decision that impacts the lives of all children who reside in Montgomery County. MSI takes seriously its commitment to the youth of the county and strongly believes that transparency, fairness and compliance with the rules are fundamental to the process by which the non-school use of athletic fields are to be decided by local government authorities. The Board of Education has utterly failed to follow that process and MSI has, regrettably, been obligated to seek the formal review process including judicial review. In this circumstance, MSI urges that the Council take no action which would further consummate the improper action that has already been taken by the Board of Education.”

Doug Schuessler, MSI Executive Director

PREFERRED USE OF THE FIELD was awarded to Bethesda Lacrosse/Potomac Soccer Association.

The Board of Education chose the proposal from Bethesda Lacrosse/Potomac Soccer, rejecting a proposal from Montgomery Soccer Inc., which has also submitted failed proposals for preferred use of fields at Richard Montgomery and Gaithersburg High School.

Bethesda Lacrosse/Potomac Soccer Association will pay $1.05 million for initial construction in return for 1,000 hours of preferred use per year for the next 10 years, after Churchill’s teams are finished for the day. That’s about 20 hours a week on average.

Churchill’s Booster Club has committed to contribute $250,000 to the project.

Artificial turf fields have already been constructed at high schools including Wootton, Walter Johnson, Richard Montgomery, Blair, Paint Branch and Gaithersburg, as well as Bullis.

Montgomery Soccer Inc. has filed a legal challenge to the Churchill decision in Montgomery County Circuit Court and the State Board of Education.

“MSI has been prejudiced and harmed by the failure of the Board [of Education] to follow its own administrative regulations and procedures, the irregularities in the process by which the decisions were made,” writes MSI Executive Director Doug Schuessler in a letter to County Council about the legal challenge. “MSI urges that the Council take no action which would further consummate the improper action that has already been taken by the Board of Education.”

That did not stop the Council’s education committee from moving forward.

“The Council should not step into the role of arbiter of the merits of this protest,” according to Essie McGuire, senior legislative analyst. “If the Council decides that the overall structure of the proposal to use private contributions in return for a preferred use agreement to construct the turf field at Churchill is good public policy, the Council should approve the appropriation without waiting for the resolution of the protest. The State Board and the Courts will ultimately decide the merits of the protest.”

“Whatever the outcome, I want to make sure the field is there for our children,” said Council President Craig Rice.

“It’s not up to the Council to decide if there are merits to that court case or not,” said Phil Andrews. “I do think artificial turf has more benefits than drawbacks.”

COCONUT FIBER AND CORK are being considered as a more environmentally safe alternative to crumb rubber, according to Council documents. There have been concerns about environmental and health impacts of recycled rubber artificial fields.

“In its extensive discussions of artificial turf, the Council has consistently expressed interest in the availability and suitability of infill materials other than crumb rubber, and has asked staff to continue to monitor ongoing developments in the technology of these materials,” according to Council documents.

The Council expects the Board of Education to obtain bids for both tradition crumb rubber fields and alternate organic materials.

“The Board expressed its preference that an alternate infill material be used,” according to Council and Board of Education documents.

The Board will make bids for both, in order “to then make a better decision with more complete information about whether the organic material is a better investment,” according to Council staff.

The Council required the Board of Education to report its findings so the Council can examine the results before the school board offers a contract for field installation and before construction begins at Churchill.

The Council’s Education Committee requested Monday that it also receive: “information about the preferred use partnership agreements; research on the performance, durability and cost effectiveness of alternate infill materials, including cork and coconut fibers; information on maintenance practices at MCPS and other entities with artificial turf fields, and well as information on the performance of MCPS and other fields within the projected lifespan of the field material.”

The Council urged James Song, MCPS Department of Facilities Management, to work with the community to minimize noise and traffic impacts.

“Our goal is to be as neighborhood friendly as possible,” said Andrews.

Song said use of the field will stop at the witching hour of 10 p.m.

Centers for Disease Control on Artificial Turf

http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/tips/artificialturf.htm

”Tests by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services (NJDHSS) of artificial turf playing fields in that state found these fields contain potentially unhealthy levels of lead dust. The initial tests were conducted on a limited number of playing fields. ...

“Some of the fields with elevated lead in either dust and/or turf fiber samples were weathered and visibly dusty. Fields that are old, that are used frequently, and that are exposed to the weather break down into dust as the turf fibers are worn or demonstrate progressive signs of weathering, including fibers that are abraded, faded or broken. ...

“The risk for harmful lead exposure is low from new fields with elevated lead levels in their turf fibers because the turf fibers are still intact and the lead is unlikely to be available for harmful exposures to occur. As the turf ages and weathers, lead is released in dust that could then be ingested or inhaled, and the risk for harmful exposure increases. If exposures do occur, CDC currently does not know how much lead the body will absorb; however, if enough lead is absorbed, it can cause neurological development symptoms (e.g., deficits in IQ). Additional tests are being performed by NJDHSS to help us better understand the absorption of lead from these products.”