That is exactly what Maryland state Del. Jay Walker said he intends to do after his proposed bill to install artificial turf fields at all Prince George's County public high schools was tabeled last month, and it will not prevent him from continuing to push for an issue he is passionate about.
In December, Walker (D-Dist. 26) and Del. Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Dist. 23) introduced a bill to the Maryland General Assembly that would require the county's Board of Education to install artificial turf fields at all 21 public high schools by Dec. 31, 2018.
The proposed bill passed through the Prince George's County house delegation Feb. 15, 21-2, but stalled last month in the appropriations committee.
“I was blown away. [Appropriations] rarely kills local bills. This is a safety issue. I continue to reiterate that this money would not come out of the classroom. The more research we did, the more we found out how much safer [turf fields] would be. Why would we continue to [let the kids] play on dangerous fields?” Walker said.
The act, which would have taken effect July 1, would be paid for with state Open Space money and the capital budget. The county invests $1.6 billion in schools each year, Walker said.
While the initial numbers might seem daunting — the installation of a turf surface could be anywhere from $700,00 to $1 million — Walker said it would save the county about $500,000 annually in the long run.
The cost to maintain a turf field is minimal, Walker said. Upkeep for the 21 new fields would only be about $25,000 a year, for the whole county, he said. Maintaining one grass field costs up to $30,000 a year.
Not to mention the safety hazards. The new fields, Walker said, would not just benefit schools' football programs, but all athletes and clubs that use the stadium field, like the marching band.
“It's been proven that maintenance costs are little to none. 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 after the bill was introduced.
Added Walker: “The fields we have now are dangerous. Kids are blowing out knee caps. There are unnecessary ankle twists. Kids are landing on sprinkler heads. When the dirt freezes up there's more risk of concussion. This is a cost saving, safety bill.”
Del. Tawanna P. Gaines (D-Dist. 22). Gaines is one of two to vote against the bill. Gaines said there are a number of reasons to oppose the proposal, but topping the list was that Program Open Space money is supposed to be used for natural resources.
Program Open Space is a nationally recognized program that funds acquisition and recreational facility development, according to the program's website. It was established under the Department of Natural Resources in 1969 and symbolizes long term commitment to conserving national resources while providing outdoor recreational opportunities.
Walker said surrounding counties like Anne Arundel have used Open Space money to install their turf fields and sees no reason why Prince George's should not follow suit.
The delegates are not currently in legislation, but he said the parties will gather and regroup for next year's meeting.
“Open Space money does not come out of the classroom. It is not used to pay teacher salaries or fix a roof. It is not used to pay security or transportation. It has to be used for recreational activities and this is the perfect use. We can't continue to have kids out there in dangerous situations. If one delegate does not care, it shows neglect,” Walker said.