Some vocal opponents to Gaithersburg’s first synthetic turf field seem to have cooled down, allowing the city to move forward with its million-dollar project.
Near Lakelands Park Middle School, a grass soccer field that has been worn down with use will be replaced with synthetic turf. The soccer field is part of a city park that also includes tennis courts and baseball fields.
A state grant awarded to the city will contribute 75 percent of the estimated $1 million cost of the synthetic turf field. The rest will be paid for by the city.
The middle school will have a joint-use agreement with the city to allow students and teachers to use the field during the day, The Gazette previously reported.
Michele Potter, Gaithersburg Director of Parks, Recreation and Culture, said the field is in high demand.
Potter presented a memo to the mayor and city council Monday evening that provided answers to questions raised by the council and audience members at a previous meeting. Some had expressed concern about the severity of injuries inflicted by the field’s regular use, the environmental impact of the synthetic material and the heat the field could absorb on hot days.
A representative of the Safe Healthy Playing Fields Coalition, a group that had warned the city about the environmental and public risks associated with synthetic fields, applauded the city’s effort to respond to those concerns.
Janis Sartucci, a member of the Parents’ Coalition of Montgomery County, also complimented city staff on their extensive research, but warned that using the field for more than 3,000 hours per year would void its warranty. Potter said the current field is being used for 1,600 hours per year.
David Goodwin of Harford County’s Department of Parks and Recreation detailed his own experience with the installation, use and recycling of synthetic turf fields. Harford County is planning to replace all its schools’ fields with synthetic turf, he said.
Goodwin, who has been advising Gaithersburg staff on their million-dollar project, pointed out that synthetic turf fields can be 15 to 20 degrees hotter than the outside temperature.
“It does get hot,” he said.
Potter said city staff will work with Lakelands Park Middle School to educate staff about how to use the field safely and ensure students and teachers are aware of the temperature hazards. Goodwin suggested a sign be erected near the field, warning users about possible high temperatures on hot days.
Cary Dimmick, an assistant principal at Lakelands Park, spoke to the mayor and council at the City Hall meeting. He said the school is in “full support” of the implementation of the synthetic field.
“I hope you arrive at a decision that is in the best interests of our children,” he said.
At a previous City Hall meeting, members of the public had raised concerns about injuries, specifically concussions, that could occur during regular use of the field. Goodwin said Harford County’s synthetic fields had not yet seen concussions, but two fractures were reported. He recommended the city invest in a shock pad system for the field.
According to Potter, the optional shock pad could cost between 75 cents and $1.50 per square foot or about $97,000 to cover the entire field.
Though the mayor and council did not vote to approve any plans at the July 15 meeting, Gaithersburg Mayor Sidney Katz said he wants to be cautious about their first synthetic turf field.
“We want to make sure that very young people that are going to be playing on these fields are as safe as they can be,” he said.
After city staff draw up a final design for the field, the mayor and city council will likely approve it this summer. The city will then issue a request for proposals for the project.