The Frederick County Board of Education will submit its facilities master plan to the state, but will hold off on sending it to the county.
The school board hopes to hold a worksession to determine whether it can find $200,000 to help Gov. Thomas Johnson High School secure the funding needed to install a turf football field.
Because turf field projects have to be locally funded through the county, the board did not need to include the turf project in order to submit the plan to the state before the Oct. 4 deadline.
The decision comes after several members of the TJ High community asked the school board to ask for help. The school’s athletic boosters have raised $500,000 over six years for the project, and need about $200,000 more to finish it.
A $50,000 grant the boosters received has to be used within two years, and donations could disappear if the boosters can’t secure the extra funding, which is why they are asking for help, several community members said.
The board did approve adding a “middle school capacity project” to the plan in fiscal 2024. The project will include either an addition, renovation or new school in the Crestwood or Oakdale areas. Board member Joy Schaefer requested adding the project to give the county plan accordingly, and because of growth in the area.
“We see the construction happening on both sides of the county,” Schaefer said. “We might need an addition on one side or a new site on the other side. ... I’d rather not be reactive, but proactive.”
Board member Mike Bunitsky agreed with inserting a middle school project into the county because of the growth in the Oakdale and New Market areas.
“Oh, my gosh, if those homes sell, we are going to have [major] traffic jams,” he said.
The facilities master plan projects Oakdale Middle School to be at more than 120 percent capacity by 2026.
New Market Middle School is under capacity, and the board said one more middle school project would likely have to come after redistricting to determine whether moving students to New Market Middle would ease crowding.
While board President Brad Young supported inserting the middle school project into the plan, he cautioned the public that it might not be realistic. The plan is entirely dependent on funding from the county and state, and already included a request for more than $400 million in funding before the middle school project was inserted.
“Our plan requires more funding than we are probably going to get,” Young said. “Realities are, we are balancing capacity needs with comfort needs.”
Board member Colleen Cusimano wanted to help Thomas Johnson High School parents find the money to acquire the field, noting that the boosters have put in a “heroic effort” to raise the money.
But several maintenance projects, known as systemic projects, also require funding, and the school system has a backlog of them. Paul Lebo, the district’s chief operating officer, expressed concern about trying to find an extra $200,000 for the turf field.
Young questioned whether the board should include the funding, because it has never funded a turf field without a full reconstruction project before.
Five high schools in the county — Middletown, Urbana, Linganore, Oakdale and Frederick — have turf fields. Linganore, Oakdale and Frederick got their turf fields as part of school construction projects, and Urbana and Middletown obtained the funding for the field through fundraising.
Cusimano suggested adding the turf field to the plan, in part, to promote equity throughout the schools.
The two schools that raised money for their turf fields are in “two of the most affluent parts of the county,” and have access to resources that some families in the Gov. Thomas Johnson feeder pattern do not. More than 38 percent of families in the Gov. Thomas Johnson High School feeder pattern qualify for free or reduced-price meals.
Bunitsky acknowledged that funding turf fields might not have been done in the past, but it may be the “wave of the future.”
“We never used to pay for computers for students, but we do now,” he said.
Bunitsky still expressed reservations about funding the turf field, citing the backlog of systemic projects, which include school road maintenance, lighting projects and HVAC systems.
If a school’s chiller or boiler system goes bad, the school cannot operate, but it can operate with a grass field, Young said.
Board member Ken Kerr said he would take a request to the county’s Parks and Recreation Department and see if a turf field could be installed at TJ High. The county installed a turf field at Ballenger Creek Park, and has scheduled a turf field at Utica Park.
Young said that park often sits empty, and a turf field at Gov. Thomas Johnson High School and a partnership with the county to share use of the field might make more sense.
The board has until early 2018 to work through the master plan before submitting it to the county.