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School looks to raise $100,000 toward new athletic fields

by Kate Yanchulis

Staff Writer

Annandale High School started the school year with an ambitious plan to raise money toward synthetic turf fields. But as of last Friday, the fundraising deadline passed with the school only one third of the way to its $100,000 goal.

The Annandale Atoms may be down in their fundraising, but student activities director Karl Kerns said they are far from out.

With the deadline now pushed back to late January 2014, Kerns said he is confident his school will rally. The school is collecting community donations at TurfAnnandale.com, and Kerns is talking with businesses about donations that would bring the Atoms to the finish line well ahead of the new deadline.

“It’s hard to look at the website every day and see us still on the same number,” Kerns said. “But now, more days than not, I’m seeing the number change. We’re gaining momentum.”

Already, what once seemed a pipe dream suddenly became plausible this summer, when the county started a push to bring turf fields to every public high school.

In July, a panel formed jointly by the school system and the county recommended the installation of turf fields at the eight county high schools without them, including Annandale.

The synthetic playing surfaces increase field availability for both school and community use, according to the panel’s report, as teams can play through rainy weather without worrying about tearing up the grass. Turf fields also reduce maintenance costs and the threat of injury to athletes.

However, the initial cost of constructing a synthetic turf field is steep. In the past, a large part of that burden has fallen on athletic booster clubs and community sports organizations. Some communities can tackle that more easily than others. For Annandale, it proved a significant barrier.

“That’s a difficult task for our school and our community,” Kern said.

The distribution of turf fields has been pointed to as an issue of equity across the county. According to statistics from the Virginia Department of Education, six of the eight schools that lack the synthetic playing surfaces have more than 25 percent of their students on the free and reduced lunch program, often used as a measure of poverty within school populations.

“It appears as if you have the haves versus the have nots,” Kerns said. “And I don’t think that’s something the School Board wanted on their plate, someone coming in and claiming that only the rich schools get turf.”

To ease the load on schools such as Annandale, the synthetic turf panel recommended to the county a funding model based on a school’s ability to pay. Under this system, Annandale would pay $100,000 of the $1.6 million price tag for two turf fields.

According to Kerns, the school system presented this to Annandale as the fundraising goal, and provided milestones for getting the money together in time to start construction next summer.

“As soon as communities have their piece of the funding, that’s when we can start moving forward,” said School Board member Sandy Evans, who represents Annandale High School’s Mason District.

Three of the eight schools - Edison, Mount Vernon and West Potomac - have already reached their fundraising goals.

“Everyone’s in a race to get in on that first year,” Kerns said.

While the schools are in a fundraising frenzy, the question now is whether the county will be able to follow through.

In September, the Board of Supervisors approved $1.5 million in funding for synthetic turf development, matching the School Board’s pledge. However, this $3 million, plus the expected school contributions, would still leave the county more than $5 million short of the projected $12 million needed to install turf fields at the eight high schools.