by Kym Byrnes

For a solid decade, there has been talk of installing artificial turf fields in Carroll County, and for a solid decade Carroll Countians have gone turfless as surrounding counties build turf complexes at schools and parks.

And now, almost a decade after Carroll County’s Director of Recreation and Parks first went before the county’s board of commissioners to discuss turf fields, the county is “closer than ever” to moving forward with installing its first public-use outdoor turf field.

More people share the “If-you-build-it-they-will-come,” spirit captured in Kevin Costner’s movie Field of Dreams.

In 2008 Carroll County Recreation and Parks Director Jeff Degitz went before Carroll County’s commissioners and presented the pros and cons on what was then still an emerging trend – public-use turf fields.  At that time he said funding would be a challenge but suggested that Carroll County start thinking about this as an option for local fields.

According to Degitz, the commissioners recently approved their FY2018 budget and included $500,000 for stadium improvements, including a turf field, at the former North Carroll High School in Hampstead.

Artificial turf surfaces, at one time called carpet, are synthetic surfaces meant to look like grass fields. First used widely for sports in the 1960s and ‘70s, turf field products have evolved for athlete safety and usability.

McDaniel College and Gerstell Academy both have turf fields and according to McDaniel College’s Athletic Director Paul Moyer, the college put in its turf field sometime around 2004 when it was being used by the Baltimore Ravens professional football team for training camp.

Moyer said that projects of that scope cost anywhere from $1.5 million to $2 million depending on excavation, drainage requirements and site prep.

McDaniel’s turf field has micro fibers with a rubber and sand infill mix which allows athletes to get good traction, much like a grass field, along with the cushioning of rubber which means fewer injuries than older iterations of turf fields, Moyer said. In addition, with limited wear and tear, the field has a consistent feel throughout, providing solid footing, true and consistent bounces and consistent ball rolling. Moyer said this improves a game like field hockey tremendously.

Degitz said that the former North Carroll High School facility is an ideal place for Carroll County’s first public turf field. He pointed to the fact that there is already a stadium in place to house the turf – with necessary infrastructure like lighting, seats, parking and restrooms. Degitz added that since there are no students there, it won’t conflict with any one school’s programs and it will be available to all schools and community programs.

But not everyone agrees that the former North Carroll High School is the best place for Carroll’s first public turf field. Westminster City Councilman Tony Chiavacci, who served as the president of the Westminster Area Rec Council for 10 years and was a founding board member and former director of Westminster Area Lacrosse (WAX), said that he believes the field should be more centrally located in Carroll County so that it’s truly accessible to the whole county.

I would make the first public turf field in Carroll County more centrally located so all parts of the county can truly access it,” Chiavacci said. “I would put it at Westminster High School then add turf at a new school each year. It’s the biggest stadium and it’s centrally located.”

Several years ago Chiavacci pitched an idea to the city of Westminster to install multiple turf fields at Westminster City Park, where there are currently baseball fields. Chiavacci said there was an interest in the project but further research showed that there wouldn’t be enough space for the project in the existing park area. Chiavacci said there have been other ideas pitched for turf in Westminster, including at the former Wakefield Valley Golf Course but nothing has panned out.

“For me, the right move is to put turf fields at all high schools,” Chiavacci said. “From a county perspective, we should spend money on existing high school complexes.”

Degitz said he is aware that there is great interest from high school sports programs as well as community athletic programs to have access to turf fields.

“We know there has been an interest for years from each of the schools,” Degitz said. “Schools spend a lot of money on transportation and renting fields, it would be much more desirable to play those games here in Carroll County.”

Degitz said that although initial installation is expensive, there is an economic benefit to installing turf. He said that turf fields can be used year-round and are not at the mercy of the weather. Additionally, turf fields do require some maintenance but not nearly to the extent, and cost, of the upkeep of grass fields.

Manchester’s Mayor Ryan Warner has been involved with the North Carroll Titans Football and Cheer program for 12 years, as a coach, parent, volunteer and organizer. He said that in addition to having fields available year-round with lower maintenance needs, that having public turf fields in Carroll County is a quality-of-life issue.

“People work here, own homes here, raise families here – and part of having that community continue to flourish is for the things around us to be nice and make it enjoyable to live here,” Warner said. “I really think we should have turf facilities all around the county so we can bring people in from surrounding areas for sporting events and they can see Carroll County as a nice place to live and do business and raise a family.”

The issue of safety often comes up with discussion of turf fields but research suggests that there are some injuries that are more common on grass fields and some that are more common on turf. Chiavacci added that injuries can depend on the condition of a grass field or the type of turf being used.

Degitz said there will be a fee to use the field and those funds will be used to maintain and renovate the field.

“Most turf fields have a price tag of about a million dollars, have a lifespan of eight to 10 years and then you spend about half of the installation costs to renovate it,” Degitz said.

So if the county has $500,000 for a million-dollar project, where does the rest of the money come from? Degitz said he is optimistic that the money will come from a variety of sources including community fundraising initiatives, high school booster programs and local businesses and sponsorships.

There is no hard schedule or deadline at this time, according to Degitz, when the money is there, the project will move forward.

“We’re a lot closer than we were a few months back,” Degitz said. “I’m excited about securing the remaining funds and moving the project forward.”