Sunday, March 8, 2009


Artificial turf has raised its ugly head again. And again, nothing is public or transparent, it’s all done in secret, and now we find out that Walter Johnson High School (WJHS) in Bethesda, MD is up next for an artificial turf field.

From what I’ve seen almost no one in the WJHS community, or in the surrounding Bethesda neighborhoods, knew about this project, which will have a significant effect on the environment.

The first we heard of this was in the WJHS student newspaper, The Pitch. Reporter Pablo Baeza wrote the story.


Meanwhile Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Superintendent Dr. Jerry Weast recently sent a memo with estimated costs to the County Council (read circled page 31 of the linked site).

WJHS parents found out by reading the fine print in the memo that they are responsible for coughing up $9,000 each year by way of the Booster Club – for the next 10 years.

So $9,000 that could have been spent on supplies, music curriculum support, equipment, uniforms, and the like, must now be ear marked for routine field maintenance. Because the $2.1BILLION annual budget that the taxpayers give to MCPS will not include field maintenance – at least not at WJHS.

In contrast, at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, MD, the Booster Club does not contribute one penny.

Why? Because, as Dr. Weast said at a County Council Education Committee meeting last year, there can be different “models” for different parts of the county.

During the County Council Education Committee meeting last year that focused on installation of the artificial turf at Richard Montgomery High School, County councilmembers Valerie Ervin, Michael Knapp and Phil Andrews, and Board of Education (BOE) members Shirley Brandman, Christopher S. Barclay, and Judy Docca discussed with enthusiasm that other ‘models’ be used at different schools.

In the course of that discussion, Superintendent Weast stated that there are “other communities that can raise substantial cash.”

Clearly, in Bethesda, the school parents fit the BOE/MCPS model of “communities with substantial cash.”

So shell out, folks. We know you’ve got all that extra money. Especially these days.

And all Montgomery County taxpayers found out that the turf would appear by way of ‘lease financing,’ costing us $600,000 plus $170,000 in interest over the course of the next ten years.

Let’s be clear: the life of the turf itself is only 8-10 years.

So you taxpayers will be paying for something that may not even last as long as the financial deal in which is was purchased – you will still be paying the interest on it. Sound familiar?

Get out your checkbooks. And why not write a thank you note to your elected Board of Education and County Council while you’ve got your pen out? Because they are the individuals that have decided that you have so much extra cash in your wallet that you can pay for this piece of giant plastic sheeting.

Oh – One item Dr. Weast left off his cost estimate was the cost of disposal. Because of hazardous materials that make up the artificial turf, the material must be disposed of in a hazardous waste landfill. The cost of that is not cheap, either.


While MCPS is focused on directing what discussion there is on effects to the players on the field, the turf will be there 24/7, year-round – yes, even when kids aren’t on the field.

The environmental effects won’t go away when the kids walk off the field.

Studies from Brigham Young University, where scientists covered a football field with half artificial turf and half natural turf to study environmental impacts of both, found that, “The surface temperature of the synthetic turf was 37º F higher than asphalt and 86.5º F hotter than natural turf.” Average surface temperature for the artificial turf was 117.38 degrees F; for natural turf, 78.19 degrees F.”

Other studies have shown that CO2 emissions from artificial turf measure 55.6 tons, while natural turf actually has a negative emission of -16.9 tons. That’s right, folks—natural turf is GOOD for the environment.

I won’t even go into the stormwater management required for replacing natural sod and soil with a giant sheet of plastic. Remember those heavy rains we experience periodically here in Montgomery County? Use your imagination. Or not.

Pay up, folks. Or vote these people out of office. Time’s up.

Let your elected officials know what you think of lease financing. Let them know what you think of the secret deals that go on in a supposed democracy. And if you haven’t already, let them know what you think of paying for the next 10 years for something with an 8-year lifespan.

1 comment:

  1. Can the Booster Club obligate the entire school community - current and future?
    Here is the sum total of the message to the Blair community about the status of their turf project from the booster club president:
    "After a long design process, MNCPPC is almost ready to bid the project and has met with MCPS and Blair staff to work out the details and
    timing. The schedule is for the installation to happen during this summer."
    So congratulations to WJ - at least you know what you are and are not getting; Blair will be kept in the dark.


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