Towson High School is getting a long-awaited turf field, to be funded partly by the Towson Recreation Council, which can use the playing field during non-school hours.
The recreation council is paying $150,000 toward the installation of the $600,000 turf field, which would replace the current grass field. The school's booster club will pay $50,000 and the Baltimore County public school system will pay for the rest of the cost.
The project had been in limbo because of a perceived dispute between the county and the recreation council over how much access the recreation council would have to the field during non-school hours.
Citing a need for more community field space, the recreation council's board entered into an agreement with Baltimore County in November 2013 to partially fund a turf field at Towson High in conjunction with Kelly Post Lacrosse and Towson United Soccer, said recreation council president Janine Schofield.
"The 2013 agreement was based on predictable, guaranteed access to this field for our youth programs," Schofield said in a group email Sept. 2, announcing that the project is moving ahead. "However, this June the project came to a halt when (the) board was shocked and disappointed to learn the county rejected the original terms of agreement regarding access to the new facility."
The county was threatening to terminate its funding for the field and re-allocate the money for other projects, but that after negotiations with the county government and the county public school system, the impasse was resolved when Towson High Athletic Director Justin Nash promised the recreation council access to the field when possible, unless a Towson High playoff game or other special event is taking place after school.
"It ended up coming out all right in the end," Schofield told the Towson Times. She said the field will be a boon to students and other children in the Towson area. Her own family will benefit because she has one child at Dumbarton Middle and two at Rodgers Forge Elementary, and they will eventually attend Towson High.
In her group email, she said, "Know (that) when the project is completed, we'll have a first-rate facility, for not only one of the greatest public high schools in the state, but one of the best recreation councils anywhere."
Construction is expected to begin later this fall and end next spring.
The recreation council's access to the field has been "a huge issue," said Baltimore County Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson. "About a month ago, there was a stalemate. Our office was very much in the middle of these discussions. It's a very happy resolution to the situation. If there had not been an agreement, the county probably would have moved the money to another project. I think the high school has agreed to be accommodating — and in return, they get a beautiful new turf field."
Marks said turf fields can be used more because they have better drainage than grass fields.
"You can use them better when they're wet," he said. "It's going to be a tremendous amenity for Towson High School and the Towson community in general."
Mychael Dickerson, a spokesman for the school system, declined to comment, saying, "This is a county matter."
Ellen Kobler, a spokesman for County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, said there was never a specific agreement with the Towson Recreation Council for guaranteed after-school access to the field, because the county uses a decades-old joint use agreement that applies to all recreation councils in the county.
"There's never been any individual memorandum of understanding," Kobler said. But she said, "Through the joint use agreement, they (the recreation council) do have dedicated access to the field. They're second in line after the school system."
Kobler also said the new turf field by its nature will give the recreation council more access because the grass field was constantly being re-sodded.
She said the county has no objection to any "working protocol" between the recreation council and Nash, the Towson High athletic director, "as long as it doesn't conflict with the joint use agreement."
Nash said he wants the Towson Recreation Council to be able to use the field as much as possible.
"As long as I'm here, with the contributions they've made, they have first crack at the field when we're not on it," he said. "They're making the financial investment in our school. They deserve to be able to be on that field when it's available."
The county is helping to fund the field as part of a public/private financing plan announced in April for $4 million worth of new recreational and open space in Towson, with the county paying $3.2 million and another $800,000 coming from the Baltimore Ravens, Towson Mews developers Caves Valley Partners, the Towson Recreation Council and the Towsontown Recreation Council. The money was targeted for two new turf fields, including at the George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology, and for turning the concrete Patriot Plaza in front of the county courthouse into a park