Gov. Thomas Johnson High School will soon be home to an artificial turf field.
The Frederick County Board of Education has approved a transfer of funds that — along with a combination of other money — will cover the cost of the installation of a turf field at the downtown Frederick high school.
The project is expected to begin this summer and be completed by fall. It will be constructed in conjunction with a track replacement project, according to Paul Lebo, chief operating officer for Frederick County Public Schools. Lebo said not only is it more efficient to complete both projects at the same time, but it also brings down the overall cost.
TJ will become the sixth high school in the county to have an artificial turf field. The remaining four schools with grass fields are Brunswick, Catoctin, Tuscarora and Walkersville high schools.
The TJ High community has been working for almost a decade to get a turf field installed. The school’s athletics booster club was able to raise about $200,000 for the project, but it was never enough to fully fund the undertaking. Three years ago, board members talked about transferring funds to help complete the project, but at the time there were two major concerns that prevented the action from being taken, Lebo said.
The first was cost. The boosters had raised a significant amount of money, but the remaining cost was still too high for the board to cover.
The second concern was how the field would continue to be maintained and what funds would cover its ongoing replacement.
Both concerns have now been resolved, Lebo told board members during a recent meeting. The current cost of the project can be covered by the money raised by the boosters, a $50,000 State of Maryland Capital Projects Grant that was co-awarded to FCPS and the TJ High boosters, and a $400,000 fund transfer from the FCPS general fund operating budget.
An exact price tag hasn’t been attached to the project, but FCPS officials expect the $650,000 will cover the turf field and ensuing installation.
The ongoing field maintenance will be covered by money collected in the new FCPS Artificial Turf Fund, which was set up last summer with the sole purpose of maintaining artificial turf fields across the school system.
Artificial turf fields are coveted by school athletic directors for two major reasons, said Brandon Oland, spokesman for FCPS. Artificial turf fields don’t require as much upkeep, and games can be played when poor weather conditions or overuse might have otherwise canceled an event on natural grass.
“The [school] stadiums are in use almost every night during the school year, and if you get wet weather before a game or if you get a really dry stretch, grass fields will get torn up pretty quickly ... and it’s a challenge to play on them,” Oland said.
The board unanimously backed the funds transfer for the TJ High field and the start of the installment during a meeting last week. But some members noted equity concerns remain.
“I just want everyone to remember we do have tremendous equity issues and ... I’d like to see if there is some way we can accelerate those last four schools to get artificial turf fields because I think it creates a greater divide amongst our schools, and ultimately we are all on the same team,” board member Sue Johnson said.
Board member Brad Young said he would like to see the board step up and commit to getting turf fields installed at the remaining schools within the next five years. Young also said he would like to figure out a way to help Middletown High School pay off the debt it incurred when its turf field was installed in 2008. The field was fully funded by donations and fundraisers and cost $800,000 to install, according to previous News-Post reporting.
Board member Liz Barrett also cited the system-wide equity concerns. She said she would like to see the new TJ field used equitably at the school level by other school groups and clubs besides athletics.
TJ High Principal Tracey Kibler sought to assure Barrett that would happen.
“You 100 percent have my guarantee that is going to be a space of equitable use, community collaboration, celebrated and available for everyone to have an opportunity to use it,” she said.
TJ High Athletic Director Mike Chavez offered similar remarks.
“It’s absolutely going to be a field for the community,” he said.
Board President Jay Mason, a TJ grad who played football while in high school, is excited the project is finally coming to fruition, but he was little envious.
“I wish it was installed in 1990 so I could have played on it,” Mason said with a laugh.