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Tomlinson: Former North Carroll High the perfect spot for artificial turf field

On Jan. 9, the 2019 session of the Maryland General Assembly began in Annapolis. The members of the House of Delegates and the Senate will introduce, debate and pass legislation on subjects great and small that directly impact the lives of all who live in “America in Miniature” from Ocean City to Oakland. Bills dealing with taxes, healthcare, education and the minimum wage will be hotly contested by both sides of the aisle until the legislature adjourns April 8.

One bill that I will be paying close attention to is a bond bill sponsored by Del. Haven Shoemaker and Sen. Justin Ready to provide state funding for a turf field in Carroll County. In 2017, the Board of County Commissioners set aside $500,000 to install artificial turf at Powelson Field located at the former North Carroll High School campus that they inherited after the school closed its doors in June 2016. The estimated cost of the project was approximately $1 million, but the $500,000 question was where to get the other half of the money.

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Each year, the governor allocates money in his budget that allows the state to match funds for local community projects. Shoemaker and Ready have submitted a bond initiative, requesting that the state match up to $500,000 for a turf field at the former NCHS. “We have an opportunity to provide something that the county’s recreation and school sports programs need while also re-purposing a property the county is already maintaining,” said Ready. “The county commissioners had the idea to put funds aside and we want to help get the project over the finish line.”

This is great news for all of Carroll County. Unlike our neighboring counties, Carroll has no public turf fields. Frederick County has six high schools with turf fields, Anne Arundel has 12 turf fields available county-wide, and Howard County has a whopping 12 high schools with turf fields, and six parks that feature multiple turf fields. Furthermore, due to rain of biblical proportions this year, over 500 athletic events were canceled in our county, including county championships that had to be rescheduled and played outside of Carroll. Shoemaker added, “we have zippo available for public use. If last year's record amount of rain demonstrated anything, it was that we need at least one turf field, pronto.”

As a result of the damage brought by the horrific weather, Carroll County Public Schools spent $80,000 last year in transporting Carroll athletes to play elsewhere. Hampstead Town Councilmember Joseph Renehan commented, “a turf field could host many events no matter the weather, and it will save the county money since schools will no longer have to play make-up dates in other counties that have turf fields."

In addition, Commissioner Richard Weaver recently proposed that NCHS should become the home of the Carroll County Community Events Center — a sports facility for the entire county. Although a turf field has been on the minds of many for a number of years, the proposed multi-purpose sports complex is a relatively new idea that came out of the county’s Long Term Advisory Council.

The LTAC was assembled to think past the usual 5- to 10-year horizon commonly used in county planning. They were tasked with generating recommendations for the commissioners that will prepare Carroll County for the next 15 to 30 years. After 18 months of research and preparation, LTAC Member Jane Sewell made a presentation on the future of recreation, arts, and community services. In her presentation, Ms. Sewell made it clear that there was a need for a large multi-purpose sports complex for team sports, track and field, and other athletic activities, and that the facility should include artificial turf fields. In speaking with Sewell recently, she said, “Carroll County is a great place to live, but we are not up to speed with other counties in terms of recreation. If you want to raise a family in Carroll, you want for there to be something to do.”

I agree that Carroll needs an event center, and Commissioner Weaver’s idea to plant it at the former home of the Panthers is ideal. Not only does the campus include 50 acres, but there are outdoor basketball hoops, tennis courts, and there is even the possibility of easily creating a seasonal ice skating rink. Weaver added, “the North Carroll location has drainage and storm water management already in place to support the creation of a turf field. In addition, the location provides a stadium with lights, a broadcast booth, a concession stand, bathrooms, and ample parking.”

Some in the county have argued that the Town of Hampstead lacks the infrastructure, namely, hotels, restaurants, etc. to support the influx of visitors that would come with hosting events at a large sports complex. A few years back, I visited Spooky Nook Sports, the largest indoor sports complex in the United States. Besides the enormous size of the complex, the other thing that stood out to me was that the property did not sit in a major metropolitan area in Pennsylvania. Instead, Spooky Nook rests just north of the small area of Salunga-Landisville, which has a smaller population than Hampstead. However, tourists can get from Spooky Nook to Lancaster or Manheim in only 10 to 15 minutes — the same amount of time it takes to get from NCHS to Carroll County’s largest city, Westminster.

Whether the Carroll County Community Events Center ever comes to fruition or not, the first step of the process needs to be the installation of Carroll’s first public turf field. The county has the property, the support of the town, and a good shot at the funding. After a year of torrential downpour, a perfect storm of opportunity may be on the horizon.

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