Laurel's McCullough Field work group analyzes artificial vs. organic turf

"We're trying to see what we can do with McCullough Field that will leave everybody satisfied."

An equal partnership in the use of a potentially revamped McCullough Field is the end goal for the city of Laurel, Laurel Boys and Girls Club, Laurel Little League, St. Vincent Pallotti High School and St. Mary of the Mills School as representatives discussed the 11.3 acre park Wednesday evening.

The discussion was part of a meeting of a McCullough Field work group, established by the city to review and evaluate how the city's field at Eighth and Montgomery streets is currently used and suggest ways that the city can improve its use.

By reviewing the field's current use, the work group's recommendations to the city council may include a turf field, new lighting and new layouts.

"We're trying to see what we can do with McCullough Field that will leave everybody satisfied," City Council President Ed Ricks said. "We want this to be a smooth and profitable situation for everyone. We want the field to be used by the children as it was meant to be when Alice B. McCullough gave it to the city."

A frequent suggestion, Ricks said, has been a synthetic, or artificial, turf field. Unlike natural grass, a synthetic turf contains an infill base of sand, "crumb rubber"— ground from recycled tires — or other material between the turf and a backing layer.

"This is the way that most communities and schools are going," Pallotti High School Principal Jeff Plaumbo said. "It provides a field that can be used for multiuse. For us, having a turf field allows us to be a little more competitive."

Plaumbo said the all-weather use and limited maintenance will allow games to go on without a hitch. But because of concerns about the safety of artificial turf, Ricks and the work group members are weighing the pros and cons of artificial versus organic infill.

According to the Synthetic Turf Council, crumb rubber can become a heat hazard as sunlight is absorbed and amplified onto the surface. Heat can also release chemicals in the material, including zinc and arsenic, which can lead to potential health risks. Director of Parks and Recreation Mike Lhotsky said he will continue to research types of turf.

Later in the meeting, Wilbert Nicholson, vice president of the Laurels Boy and Girls Club, said he was also concerned about relocating the tennis courts.

"I was a child of the '60s and '70s and I remember going to those tennis courts," Nicholson said. "My grandparents live right by there."

In addition to the tennis court relocation, the stage and basketball courts will also be moving. If this is the case, Nicholson added, the work group must come up with an appropriate plan as to not restrict community access.

"You got to keep the kids active. They've got to have something to do," he said.

But Nicholson is positive that the work group will complete their task to create a better McCullough Field.

"Pallotti and Laurel Boys and Girls Club have always had a good relationship," Nicholson said. "We want to make this happen."

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