When Janet Bolster emerged from a meeting April 10 of Towson community leaders and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, she was under the impression that Towson High School would be getting an artificial turf field soon, likely as early as this fall, in time for the 2014-2015 school year.
Artificial turf will indeed be installed at Towson High, at 69 Cedar Ave., at its main stadium field. But the earliest the field will be ready is spring of 2016, a schedule that is causing consternation among leaders like Bolster, then-president and now immediate past president of the Towson Recreation Council, and Bruce Chesser, president of Towson Sports Boosters, who also attended the meeting.
"It's disappointing," said Bolster, whose nonprofit organization provides recreational opportunities for the Towson community, primarily youth, and who, without the Towson High field, is now scrambling to find athletic venues for its youth sports programs next spring.
Don Mohler, Kamenetz's chief of staff, has a different perspective. Mohler, who also attended the meeting, said, the county executive did not specify a timeline for the Towson turf field nor is it even feasible to install one by this fall given the county's budgeting procedure.
"It can become confusing," said Mohler. "Kevin said that as soon as funding becomes available, we'd get started right away, and that's an 18-month process" from the time last May when the County Council approved the county's fiscal year 2015 budget for schools, including an item for artificial turf fields.
"Kamenetz never said, but it was implied. The money is released July 1 and we expected a field by this fall," said Bolster who, like Towson Sport Boosters' Chesser, relayed that information to their members.
Chesser said he first learned of the 2016 timeframe last week from Fifth District Baltimore County Councilman David Marks. "I never found out why. No explanation was given," said Chesser, whose Towson Sports Boosters, a nonprofit group, supports Towson High athletics.
"We realized a construction timeline of 2014 seemed aggressive when we met in April," he continued, "but two years to complete, by spring 2016, seems lengthy by comparison."
In this cloudy scenario, it appears that Towson High may not have been originally scheduled to get an artificial turf field and it is thanks to community leaders that it is.
Mohler said that Towson community leaders met with Kamenetz to argue in favor of adding the school to the already-scheduled turf fields at Dundalk High School, Merritt Point Park in Dundalk and the new Catonsville Regional Park at Spring Grove State Hospital.
They succeeded. "They did a great job advocating for a field. The county executive was so impressed by their enthusiasm and willingness to contribute," said Mohler, that he subsequently included Towson High in the budget item.
Bolster and Chesser are equally complimentary. "We're very grateful to the county for investing in our Towson community," said Bolster.
Said Chesser, "We grateful for the investment the county is making in Towson High School but disappointed in the lengthy timeline."
Justin Nash, athletic director of Towson High School, said artificial turf is the material of choice for athletic fields.
Made of monofilament fibers, it is strong and durable. It looks like grass but is better because "when it rains, you have to stay off grass until it dries completely or you run the risk of tearing up the field. The grass disappears and you end up playing on dirt," he said.
"The biggest benefit at Towson High is that artificial turf can be used around the clock. It's easy to drain and unlike the old Astroturf, it's soft and doesn't leave 'turf burn,' " Nash said.
In the county's FY 2015 budget, artificial turf is a $2 million item for three fields. Although the exact cost of each field is not yet known, Mohler figures a typical price is $750,000 to $1 million per field. Now that a fourth field is included, he said that the county has added funding to cover the cost.
"The county is committed to building the four fields in the neighborhood of $3 million," said Mohler.
But this raises a question for Towson Sports Boosters and Towson Recreation Council. Both groups pledged money to get the high school turf field built — a total of $200,000, split $50,000 from the former and $150,000 from the latter.
Chesser said the Towson Sports Boosters' board voted to reserve funds for the turf field in its fiscal year 2015 budget. If the matter has to be reopened and voted on for the fiscal year 2016 budget, he can't predict the outcome.
"In our master plan, we have other investments we want to make in the Towson High campus," he said.
"It was clear to us that the turf field would not be built without our contribution," said Bolster, who held fundraisers and increased membership dues for that goal. At the April meeting, "we came to the table with that offer."
Added Bolster, upon hearing about Mohler's comment on funding, "If Mohler has funding for the entire field, we'd be ecstatic. There are plenty of things we could spend the money on."
Mohler expects the county to issue a request-for-proposal (RFP) after Jan. 1. The RFP will be to build all four fields in order to maximize the cost benefit for the county. Several months will be spent analyzing the bids, followed by a two- to three-month-long construction period.
A conservative estimate is that the fields will ready by spring of 2016, although "there's always a chance the construction schedule could be accelerated," said Mohler.