Turf War in Prince George’s County

A turf war is brewing in Prince George's County, Md., where a new bill would require all county high schools to have artificial turf fields by 2018, but not everyone is sold on the idea.

Oxon Hill High School is getting a new $82 million state-of-the-art building, but when Maryland Delegate Jay Walker -- a former NFL quarterback -- heard that the school’s athletic field wouldn’t be up to date, he was concerned.

“The days of having fields of patches of dirt that have green paint on them, that’s over with,” he said.

Thanks to Walker, Oxon Hill will be the county’s first school with a turf field.

“Everybody started asking the question, Why aren’t we doing this in all of our schools, which is the right thing to do,” Walker said.

State Sen. Douglas Peters, who also has a passion for athletics, is cosigning with Walker on state legislation that would require Prince George’s County Schools to replace their grass fields with turf.

“(In) Anne Arundel every single high school field is turf,” Peters said. “Every single high school field in Washington, D.C., is turf. Montgomery is moving forward and they have four turf fields. So we just felt like we really needed to set the bar and move forward with some turf fields in our high schools.”

Transforming the county’s 20 school fields could cost up to $20 million -- a lot of money for a system that’s already asking the state to supplement its facilities budget -- and some critics say it’s an example of state lawmakers micromanaging county government.

“Our reality is now that our fields in our state and in our county are in a state of disrepair,” said Prince George’s County Council member Derrick Davis, who chairs the committee over education.

Davis said he supports the legislation and would like to see the state pay for it.

“We don’t have an option when it comes to our children about prioritizing what we care about the most,” he said. “That’s an economic reality that we have to face. Our children are our most important natural resource.”

Walker and Peters said they are going to propose the fields not be done at one time but through 2018, and they say that as new school construction begins, considering a turf field should be part of that new construction.

The senator and delegate say they are not proposing that all the fields be done at one time but from now to 2018 and that as new construction happens that putting in new fields be a part of that construction.

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