Wednesday, April 2, 2008

What about residents’ rights to new turf-covered field?

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On March 18, the County Council voted, with the county executive’s endorsement, to approve a proposal by the county school board to accept a $300,000 contribution from a private entity to apply toward the $900,000 cost of installing artificial turf on the stadium field at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville (‘‘County approves money for artificial turf,” March 19 article).

In return, the school board would give the private entity preferential use of the field for approximately 30 hours a week during non-school hours for five years with a right to renew the preferential use for another five years.

The private party, Maryland Soccer Enterprises, owns a team in a professional soccer league and plans for the team to play its home games at the field. MSE will also use the field to run sports clinics for profit.

This deal gives away the rights of residents, who, by state law and county policy, are suppose to get preferential use of school fields during non-school hours. This preference for residents makes sense because the community has paid for the facility and its maintenance through taxes that pay for the capital and operating budgets.

While the $300,000 that MSE will pay is a lot of money, during the five-year lease period, it is dwarfed by the nearly $23 billion that county residents will pay in taxes during the same period.

Downcounty residents with soccer playing kids typically drive 40 minutes each way to games at the Soccerplex in Germantown. As they drive up Interstate 270 through Rockville, they can now imagine a sign saying, ‘‘If the County Council hadn’t given it away, you could be playing at Richard Montgomery High School.”

Thomas Hearn, Bethesda