Bill funding synthetic fields at PGCPS schools fails again

WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- For the second consecutive year, a bill proposed to fund the installment of synthetic turf fields at Prince George's County high schools has failed.

"It's extremely disappointing when you talk about safety and you're talking about saving money and you're talking about doing the right thing by the students," said Delegate Jay Walker (D-Md) who helped author the bill.

The measure had passed through the Prince George's House Delegation, but a Memorandum of Understanding between the Prince George's County School Board and the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission could not be brokered before the legislative session ended.

The bill called for synthetic turf fields to be installed at all PGCPS high schools by 2019. Walker's bill proposed to fund the project using Project Open Space money, a state grant program for the planning, acquisition, and/or development of recreation land or open space areas. Local entities, however must provide assisting funds. Prince George's County Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Dr. Kevin Maxwell said establishing funding for the program was a major stumbling block.

"Part of this is caught up in who's gonna pay for things," Maxwell said. "Is it going to come out of our capital budget, or is there going to be additional money appropriated to our capital budget, or is it going to be money taken from badly needed school renovations?"

And this is where a major difference in opinion exists on this issue. Walker, told WUSA9 Sports that Prince George's County's funding requirement was already taken care of.

"The County match had already been accounted for with the money that the county council put in last year," said Walker. "That's the part that has me scratching my head, we're not asking the school board to put money in we're just asking the school board to come up with a memorandum of understanding between [Maryland] National Capital Park and Planning and the schools over use of the fields, hours of operation, and the minimum maintenance on these fields."

Prince George's County Public Schools, however, says the money provided last year only covered turf installation at two area high schools, not all of them.

"The money the county council put into turf fields last year was for Gwynn Park High School and Dr. Henry Wise High School by giving the money to Maryland National Capital Park and Planning (MNCPPC)" said PGCPS Communications Officer Max Pugh. "We have been working out a Memorandum of Understanding to address contracts, installation, inspections and usage in order to receive reimbursement from MNCPPC."

Maxwell told WUSA9 Sports the inclusion of a state mandate has also turned some off.

"The board and I have an issue with the state legislation of mandating how we're gonna do it," said Maxwell. "We never had legislation in my last position when we did this, we sat down at a table together with [Maryland National Capital] Park and Planning, county government, and the school district there and we worked it out."

"I support turf fields and I've been very clear to Jay [Walker] that I support turf fields, I came from a district (Anne Arundel County) that when I started there they had one turf field, when I left, every school had turf fields," said Maxwell. "I'll also say the school system didn't take any of its money from anywhere else and divert it to turf fields, we were given additional funding to do it."

Despite the bill's defeat, Maxwell said he's still committed to synthetic turf fields in Prince George's County.

"I'd love to get it done, we just want some of the deciding authorities in terms of the funding and those kinds of things to resolve the questions of where the money comes from and to give us the authority to decide the order in which things get done," said Maxwell.

Maxwell also stated that there are other facilities at PGCPS schools that need to be addressed as well.

"I have to tell you I have some tracks that need to be done, I've seen some tracks at several high schools that aren't safe to run on and yet we run a track program. Some of our bleachers are in terrible shape too and, at some places, bathrooms are not accessible at the field areas. I just think we have a lot of work that needs to be done."

Maxwell emphasized that while he thought some tracks were unsafe, he did not believe playing fields were.

"I didn't say fields were unsafe," said Maxwell. "They might not have the best turf but there's a difference between my lawn and my neighbors lawn too but neither one of them are unsafe."

Maxwell was not sure whether turf fields were an agenda item in upcoming school board meetings. Walker, meanwhile said coaches and parents need to be more vocal if turf fields are going to eventually be installed in Prince George's County.

"I believe that all the student representatives and parents should hold their school board members accountable and they should demand more," said Walker. "Why should we allow our students to go out [and perform] on an inferior product and they go to surrounding counties and see a superior product."


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