At North High, why have good intentions drawn sour responses?

May 25, 2006|by BOB MAGINNIS

When I got to my office Wednesday morning, there was an e-mail waiting for me from a supporter of the new North Hagerstown High School Stadium.

It said, in effect, "Was Washington County Commissioner Dori Nipps really ready to hold up an $86 million Capital Improvement Program budget because she doesn't favor giving another $300,000 to the North High stadium project?"

Maybe, maybe not. Nipps did vote for it, but only after saying again that she opposed more money for the stadium.

Nipps may have reasons for her position that I don't understand, but she isn't the only one taking a whack at this endeavor.


Commissioner William Wivell said this week that project is getting "completely out of hand."

There is no denying the project's estimated cost has increased from an original figure of $2 million to somewhere close to $4 million now. But compared with Chambersburg Area High School's renovation of Trojan Stadium at a cost of $6.8 million, North High's project seems cheap.

(Chambersburg's funding will come on top of $600,000 spent to remove the home grandstand and repair the visitors' side seating.)

Chambersburg's stadium-renovation fund will come from a $38 million construction bond.

So far as I know, there is no private funding comparable to the $2.3 million in cash and in-kind contributions raised by private citizens in Washington County.

The resistance to this project is also puzzling because the $750,000 county government has contributed far is not coming out of taxpayers' pockets, but from something called Program Open Space (POS).

POS money comes from a state fund created with a percentage of the state real estate transfer tax that is paid every time a home or a tract of land is sold.

According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the fund has preserved 234,000 acres of land for state parks and 31,000 acres of local park land.

In January, $2.9 million in POS funds were earmarked for Washington County in Gov. Robert Ehrlich's 2006 budget.

POS funds might also be used to pay for an artificial turf field, except that Conservit Inc., a local recycling company, has already pledged $250,000 in exchange for "naming rights" for the field. More can be raised, said Conservit's Jack Metzner.

Artificial turf is already in use at a number of Pennsylvania schools and is being installed at Trojan Stadium. Fort Hill High School is Allegany County has also opted for artificial turf.

Harry Reynolds of Callas Contractors told the School Board last week that the artificial turf would cost $460,000 as opposed to installing a sod field for $235,000.

Grass is cheaper to install, but is more expensive to maintain, because it needs fertilizer, mowing and plenty of water.

Reynolds estimated turf could cost at least $28,000 annually to maintain, versus a few thousand for artificial turf. It seems that the annual savings on maintenance could be used to create a fund for when the turf eventually has to be replaced - over 10 to 12 years, ultraviolet light damages it.

Proponents of artificial turf say it not only needs less maintenance, but is more durable than grass and can be used almost continuously. A drainage system that is part of the turf will take water away from its surface.

It's also safer, according to Sportexe, which just installed its turf at the San Francisco 49ers' practice facility.

The company's Web site

( says that because the polyethylene fibers are anchored in a mixture of sand and rubber, when a player's head hits the field, the impact is more likely to be absorbed by the turf.

This is hardly the stuff we expect to start anyone's blood boiling. And yet the citizens' committee feels that some elected officials and members of the community have become outright hostile to the project.

It's unclear why that is, but those inclined to rip the project should consider this: If the volunteer committee and its donors reap only scorn for their efforts, who will be brave enough to try such a thing again?

The taxpayers would then be assured that when the next high school is built - such as the proposed Eastern High School - they will get the bill for all the amenities, or students there will do without.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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