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Installation of Fallston High all-weather turf field pushed back again, to May 2017

After another delay, Harford County is now planning to start construction on the new Fallston High School all-weather turf field in May 2017 and expects to finish in time for fall sports season.
After another delay, Harford County is now planning to start construction on the new Fallston High School all-weather turf field in May 2017 and expects to finish in time for fall sports season.(MATT BUTTON | AEGIS STAFF / Baltimore Sun)

More delays have pushed the start date to install an all-weather artificial turf field for football and other sports at Fallston High School back to May 2017.

County officials are optimistic the field could be ready for play by the fall 2017 season, a spokesperson said, explaining the latest delay was caused by a need to rebid the project.

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Athletic boosters learned of the new installation schedule earlier this week, according to members of the FHS community.

The $1.55 million project, which involves building an all-weather turf field to replace the school's 38-year-old natural grass field, was initially delayed last fall as county capital funding was not available. Work was then going to start this summer, which meant the football team would play some or all of its home games at another location.

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The project was delayed again, however, in order to re-bid the contract and clean up "ambiguity" in the bid specs, as well as avoid disruption to Cougars' sports, according to Harford County government spokesperson Cindy Mumby.

Joseph Licata, chief of administration from Harford County Public Schools, said school system officials agree with changing the construction timeline to next spring. He noted HCPS and Fallston High representatives were involved in the discussions with county leaders.

"We fully concurred with that discussion," he said Thursday.

This year's fall football schedule had been adjusted to have home games played off site under the belief the new field would still be under construction. HCPS athletic officials are revising it to reflect a normal home game schedule, Licata said.

Harford County's plan to give every high school an all-weather turf field has been slowed down, leaving Fallston High School this year, and possibly Patterson Mill in the future, in the lurch.

Licata expects the Fallston High grass field will remain in good condition during the upcoming fall sports season. He stressed it is being replaced as part of the countywide program, not because of any problems with it.

"It's not being done because that field is dangerous or out of commission," he said. "It's certainly going to be a usable field."

"The construction is expected to start in May and be done before the fall season [of 2017]," the county's Mumby said. "The bottom line is, there will be home games on home turf for the Fallston Cougars this fall."

If the project does get under way next May, as now planned, it will depend on the weather cooperating and construction proceeding without any hitches, if the field is ready for the full 2017 home football season.

Fallston and Patterson Mill are the only two of 10 local high schools without all-weather turf playing fields. The county, under former County Executive David Craig, had been installing artificial turf fields at schools that didn't have them at a rate of about one a year and a cost of about $1 million per field.

Some of the new fields were installed as part of major reconstruction projects at existing schools such as North Harford, Bel Air and Edgewood, but Craig also took the initiative to push for the fields at older schools.

The last field installed, Joppatowne High School's, was completed for the spring sports season in 2015 and was funded in Craig's final budget.

A pair of new artificial turf fields at The John Carroll School in Bel Air were blessed by a Catholic priest Tuesday afternoon, marking the completion of a roughly $1 million upgrade school officials said was sorely needed after 50 years using the same outdoor athletic facilities.

After County Executive Barry Glassman succeeded Craig in late 2014, some spending on capital projects was curtailed in an effort to rein in the county's debt load, while Glassman concentrated on funding for salary enhancements for county government employees, sheriff's deputies and teachers.

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As a consequence, no funds for the Fallston turf field project were included in Glassman's first budget covering the 2015-16 fiscal year, but funding was later provided in the budget for the current fiscal year that began July 1. According to budget documents, the funding source is bond money left over from construction of the new Hickory annex/department of emergency services headquarters.

Installation of the Patterson Mill turf field isn't slated for funding until the fiscal 2019 budget, according to the county's five-year Capital Improvement Program. Engineering funding, however, is due to be available in fiscal 2018. Patterson Mill, which opened in 2007, is the newest of Harford's high schools.

Although the county pays for installation of the fields, their maintenance costs are split between the school system's budget and the county's parks and recreation budget.

Licata noted the high school fields are used for interscholastic sports and community recreation programs, and the all-weather turf fields are better for long-term use, maintenance and upkeep in terms of the ease of maintenance and the cost.

They can also be used during rainy weather, although events would be canceled, if there was lightning and thunder, Licata said.

"We have been able to continue on with far, far more events that are previously scheduled than we've been able to do with the natural turf fields," he said.

The all-weather turf fields have a life span of 10 to 12 years, depending on how they are used, and they will eventually have to be replaced, according to Licata.

"That's an ongoing expense that's going to have to be considered in the capital budget," he said.

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