In need of more field time, Langley and McLean high schools are eyeing synthetic turf as an investment for student-athletes.
However, time is running short for the two schools, which are facing a county-imposed deadline of May 15 to have money in place for the renovation of existing on-campus fields. The deadline was set to allow for planning summer-time construction.
“We definitely plan to meet the deadline,” said Langley Booster President Karen Dodd. “Our school is getting renovated in a year and we’ll be down to one field.”
With the region’s rainy season in full swing, spring sports have seen a number of games canceled or relocated because of water-logged fields.
“My biggest concern is safety,” said Dodd, whose daughter is on Langley’s dance team, which performs during football games. “Last fall during football season … they had to get into their cars and schlep out to West Springfield for games.”
Langley athletes practice on half fields in shifts from 3 to 5 p.m. and from 5 to 7 p.m.
Turfing the stadium field would increase the availability of the field during wet weather.
Langley’s turf project is estimated to cost $750,000 to renovate the stadium. PTSA and booster club parents have raised all but $200,000 in the past year.
In the past, some high schools within the county have opted to pay for turf by partnering with community sports leagues, which are scheduled through the county. Several schools are looking to emulate a public-private partnership used at Herndon High School, which installed turf in 2010.
“It all took place in less than one year,” said Mike Mahoney, former Herndon High director of student activities who retired this past summer and is considered the driving force behind the school’s $1.3 million turf stadium and practice fields.
“You have to have the partnerships,” he said. “Some of these youth [sports] associations have a lot of money put aside to support projects like this. … All of this has to be financed without Fairfax County Public Schools money. And if you’re going to fundraise on your own, it’s going to take forever.”
Langley parents, however, said the partnership is not an option for their school.
“We’d love to partner with the county [sports leagues] but we’ve got way too many kids. There’s just not enough space,” Dodd said.
Instead, those leading the turf effort at Langley set out in a different direction.
“We were really expecting corporate donations, but it’s been parents and smaller donations. But, it all adds up.”
Last week, Langley raised $10,000 through its donor wall, a wall at the school that lists its benefactors. The school has other events planned for this spring, and has a website dedicated to its “Buy the Yard” campaign at www.langleyturf.org.
Neighboring McLean High School also is fundraising for a $750,000 turf project on its stadium field. Although the school has been working to raise money for turf for multiple years — a much longer time frame than Langley, which began last summer — McLean is about $100,000 short of its goal.
“We’re ready to move forward. We’ll still likely have to take out a loan, but we’re concentrating on fundraising,” said McLean High School Athletic Boosters parent Brenda Bach. She said the community as a whole, including the McLean Youth Lacrosse program, has been working toward fundraising for turf, which they see as vital to playing more home games.
“Our goal is to have [the field] ready for our first football game,” Bach said.
Although taking out a loan would get the job done, Bach said parents are hesitant about taking loans out for future generations to pay.
“We all won’t necessarily be there and we’d like to have a zero balance,” she said.
McLean High School’s efforts were given a big boost by the county Board of Supervisors, which voted last Tuesday to approve $175,000 in funding for the school’s turf field.
Last year, McLean was one of five high schools that applied for a county grant aimed at increasing community or scholastic access to fields. Funding for the grant program, which raises about $1.1 million, comes from a $5.50 application fee for community athletic groups. However, the school did not receive this grant.
Christopher Leonard, director of the Department of Neighborhood and Community Services, said the grants were highly competitive.
“The criteria [are] basically on need and community use,” he said. “How many hours is the community going to be able to get out on the field?”
Although McLean did not qualify for this grant — which is open again this year to other schools like Langley — McLean High School did qualify for another grant, giving it the $175,000 bump.
“This new money is really for those groups that need that last push,” Leonard said of the grant, which was approved by the Board of Supervisors on April 24.
“This is all positive. It’s competitive grants … but we are continuing to move forward with these projects,” he said, adding the students and community have vocalized support and interest in expanding turf access. “It’s still two or three more facilities than other jurisdictions have.”
Fairfax County leads the region in number of turf fields. Two of Loudoun County’s 12 high schools have turf fields, both of which were installed when the schools were built in 2010. Similarly, Prince William County’s Patriot High School, which opened this fall, included a turf field during construction. Arlington’s school system has three high schools with turf fields, all paid for by the school system and community groups that rent them.
The first county high school to install turf was West Springfield in 2006, said Kevin Sneed, director of Design and Construction Services. Chantilly High School is the latest to install turf in 2011, using athletic boosters and youth groups to fund the project.