When the Prince George’s County Board of Education funds the construction of a new public high school, chances are the science labs will not be built with equipment from the 1970s, state Del. Jay Walker said.
The former National Football League quarterback therefore was surprised when plans for the new Oxon Hill High School included a grass stadium field.
Oxon Hill falls under Walker’s (D-Dist. 26) jurisdiction.
“Why would we have a new school built using 1970 science labs for athletic fields? The maintenance that goes along with a grass field — the wear and tear — it doesn’t make sense when there is new state of the art technology,” Walker said. “Our students should feel like they’re treated equally as students across the state.”
Walker joined forces with fellow turf field advocate, Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Dist. 23) of Bowie to introduce a bill to the Maryland General Assembly earlier this month that will require the county’s board of education to install artificial turf fields at all 21 public high schools by Dec. 31, 2018.
The proposed act would take effect July 1.
“Our surrounding jurisdictions are already way ahead of us as far as providing adequate facilities for athletes,” Peters said. “We have to put forth some sort of vision for the future, not just for athletes, but for band members and other clubs that utilize the field.”
Walker said although he does not abuse his professional sports background, he is compelled to push for sports related issues that he truly believes are in the best interest of the community he serves.
Initial funding likely would be the movement’s biggest obstacle.
A turf field can cost $1 million or more. But in the long run, Walker and Peters agreed, money would be saved.
Painting the sidelines alone costs about $1,000 each time, Walker said.
The grass also must be cut frequently, he added, and much time, energy and manual labor goes into keeping the fields as playable as possible.
And they are not always such.
Aside from the aesthetics of a pristine turf field and players’ ability to better develop their skills on a more consistent surface — former Eleanor Roosevelt girls soccer coach Martin Pfister said Prince George’s teams that advance to the state tournament are at a severe disadvantage due to lack of experience on turf fields — injury is a major issue on grass fields.
Playing on grass when it’s cold, Walker said, is like playing on concrete. With inclement weather and natural wear and tear, the surface becomes uneven, which lends itself to more ankle and knee injuries.
And that does not just pertain to athletes, Peters said, but members of each school’s marching band and other performance groups and clubs that use the field.
“Its been proven that maintenance costs are little to none. The hard part to measure is the ability to use the field year-round. A number of studies I have seen show that it reduces injuries — you don’t step into holes and rocks and natural areas where you would tear your [anterior cruciate ligament] or ankle,” Peters said.
The money for the turf field would come out of the capital budget during six years, which means it could be worked into school renovations, Peters added.
The county invests $1.6 billion in schools each year, Walker said.
Peters said he is confident costs could be cut significantly with a quantity discount.
The turf fields would not just benefit students, however. Local clubs and community residents could share in the use of the field and surrounding track.
Peters and Walker agreed that finding “partners” will be an important factor.
Montgomery County’s Walter Johnson High School shares ownership of its new turf field with the Bethesda Soccer Club.
Walker and Peters agreed six years is a reasonable time frame to work under as three to four schools can be worked on per year.
Laying down turf fields, Walker added, is something that can easily be finished while students are out of school so teams will not be displaced.
“If you look at the schools in Prince George’s County, the schools that are overcrowded, are the newer schools. People like to have nice things,” Walker said.