FACT CHECK: More Artificial Facts From the Parents' Coalition

August 18, 2010

For the past several months, the Parents’ Coalition of Montgomery County has been making false claims about the cost of installing artificial turf at Walter Johnson High School. Unfortunately, WJLA/Channel 7—part of the new media network—aired a story based almost entirely on distorted information that was posted on the Parents’ Coalition website and furthered in an interview with Louis Wilen, a frequent contributor to the group's blog. Here are the facts:


THE COST OF INSTALLING ARTIFICIAL TURF AT WALTER JOHNSON: It cost about $1.114 million to install an artificial turf field at Walter Johnson High School, including the cost of site prep, grading and installation. This is less than the $1.2 million that was budgeted for the project. The Parents’ Coalition claims the project cost “$1,718,993.50.” This is completely false.


THE COST OF PUTTING GENERIC SOD ON WJHS’ FIELD: The site work and grading for the new WJHS field was performed before the 2009-2010 school year. A temporary field and sprinkler system were installed after the site work was done to prevent erosion and to allow the field to be used before the installation of the artificial turf. The cost for the sod, top soil and sprinkler system was $56,264. The Parents’ Coalition claims the temporary field for WJHS cost $432,500. This is false. They derived that figure from a report to the County Council on the estimated cost to develop a high-quality Bermuda turf field from scratch. That field was not built.


THE USE OF THE TEMPORARY FIELD: The Parents' Coalition claims: “The temporary grass football field was put in place for just 5 home football games. Then it was ripped up.” This is false. The field was used for more than 50 games in several sports, including Varsity and J.V. football, Varsity and J.V. boys’ soccer, Varsity and J.V. girls’ soccer, and Varsity and J.V. girls’ field hockey.


WHAT HAPPENED TO THE TEMPORARY FIELD: The sod and soil, and the sprinkler system, were removed from Walter Johnson High School this year and the artificial turf was installed. The sprinkler system and the top soil were moved to Wheaton High School, which was in need of a field renovation. MCPS stored the actual sod from the temporary field in a warehouse to use at Wheaton, but the long winter and wet spring delayed installation and in mid-May we learned that the grass did not survive. The renovation of the Wheaton High School field cost $86,493.50, including the transfer of the soil and sprinkler system from WJHS and the purchase and installation of other materials and new sod. A full field renovation normally costs in the neighborhood of $150,000. The Parents' Coalition claims “the "relocation" of the grass football field cost taxpayers $86,493.50.” This is false.


THE BOTTOM LINE: The installation of artificial turf at WJHS cost about $1.114 million, plus $56,264 for a temporary field and sprinkler system, much of which was recycled for the Wheaton High School field renovation. Additionally, Bethesda Soccer has committed more than $400,000 over the next five years for the use of the Walter Johnson field. Bethesda Soccer also has indicated its willingness to renew the agreement with the same terms. The field will also be available for rental through the Interagency Coordinating Board, which has the potential to produce additional income to the county. If the field were natural grass, it would not be open for community rental.


MCPS Fact Check is an occasional feature aimed at correcting misinformation about Montgomery County Public Schools that appears in the media or other public sources.

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