The plan for Gaithersburg’s first synthetic turf field triggered a heated discussion between city councilmembers and residents at a work session Monday evening.
The city received a state grant for 75 percent of the estimated $1 million cost of the field, scheduled to be constructed near Lakelands Park Middle School this fall. The soccer field, part of a city park that also includes tennis courts and baseball fields, is under high demand, said Michele Potter, director of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Culture.
Lakelands Park Middle School will have a joint-use agreement with the city, allowing students and teachers to use the field during the day.
The city doesn’t have enough soccer fields to handle the level of requests, Potter said at the City Hall work session.
The synthetic field will cost the city less to maintain, especially since fertilizer will not be necessary, said Jim McGuire, chief of the Recreation and Parks Division. The synthetic turf will be made of recycled tires, according to city staff.
But, McGuire acknowledged that there are concerns about the heat generated by synthetic turf, which can reach 100 degrees or higher in certain conditions.
Diana Conway, a Potomac resident and member of the Safe Healthy Playing Fields Coalition, opposed the field because of the heat.
“Those fields go to 150 degrees on 90-degree days,” she said.
Athletes can suffer worse scrapes than those caused by natural turf, she said, and the lifetime of the field is shorter than the 20 years the city expects.
“Nobody’s getting 20 years out of these,” Conway said.
Several other residents expressed concerns about the health risks and environmental consequences of the synthetic turf material. City staff agreed to conduct further research on the concerns they presented.
The city will begin accepting bids for the project this summer.