UPPER MARLBORO – If Chief Executive Officer Kevin Maxwell had the money, he would put a new turf field at every Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) high school, but he doesn’t.
Last week, the Prince George’s County Board of Education approved the final payments for two turf fields at county high schools. Those two fields, at Gwynn Park and Dr. Henry A. Wise, Jr. high schools, are some of the first few turf fields completed in the county.
Although the final payments were approved, the board raised several questions about future field placements throughout Prince George’s.
Over the past two legislative sessions, members of the Prince George’s County Delegation have brought bills before the Maryland General Assembly requesting funding for certain high schools to receive turf athletic fields.
Maxwell said the school system took the lists made by previous delegations, compared it to the list of schools that have either been closed or are up for renovation within the next several years, and narrowed the list down to four schools. Those four schools – Northwestern, Bowie, Eleanor Roosevelt and Charles H. Flowers – are currently being designed for new fields as well as reconfigured stadiums with lights.
“Some of that original order, and it’s been talked about in a couple of different pieces of legislation, some of those schools are in the construction queue and there’s no point in putting a brand new turf field there that might only get torn up,” Maxwell said, referencing renovation practices that often build new buildings on current athletic fields.
He further explained turf fields are planned for all new and fully renovated high schools.
Although those four schools are next on the list to receive turf fields, Maxwell said the school system does not currently have the funds to build all four. The school system was previously given $2.5 million to build the fields, said Will Smith with PGCPS’ Capital Improvements Office. However, Maxwell said in his experience that is not enough to build four fields with improved stadiums and lighting.
“This issue, of course, is funding,” Maxwell said. “If they give me enough money for all 24 high schools to have a field tomorrow, we would install them.”
Juwan Blocker, the student member of the board and a Parkdale High School senior, said high school students are concerned about where the turf fields would go. He said students saw lists circulated throughout social media and by word-of-mouth that originated in state legislation and many have voiced dissatisfaction with their schools either not being on the list or seemingly eliminated from the list.
“I want to know when they’re going to get turf fields, if they’re even being considered for turf fields, and what that process would look like and then how long that would take,” he said.
In response, Christian Rhodes, the Strategic Partners officer, reemphasized that legislators in Annapolis created the previous lists and that neither of the bills had passed.
Board Member Edward Burroughs, III was not satisfied with that answer and said the school system should be creating its own priority lists, rather than working off of ones created by legislators who are essentially negotiating locations among negotiations for other bills in the legislature.
“So here’s what I’m hearing: we are placing four turf fields, mainly in North and Central County, none in the south, based on a list that politicians in Annapolis came up with arbitrarily,” Burroughs said.
Three turf fields already exist in South County at Oxon Hill, Wise and Gwynn Park high schools, but Burroughs said equity in the turf locations has to rest on more than simply location and an “arbitrary” list.
Burroughs said new fields should go to the schools that need them the most.
“(There was) no regard for the schools that are in just awful condition,” Burroughs said. “And if we have control in creating this list, it should be the schools that have the greatest need regardless of where they are.”
Monica Goldson, deputy superintendent of teaching and learning, noted that Northwestern High School is in desperate need for a new field and again emphasized the school system does not have any money for all four schools to get turf fields.
The future turf fields were not on the board agenda as something to take action on and Board Chair Segun Eubanks said the board has time dig further into the matter before a vote would come before them.