St. Mary’s parents and athletes alike have lamented some of the conditions on fields used by county sports leagues. While plans get underway to install three synthetic turf fields this year, the St. Mary’s County Department of Recreation and Parks is also looking to improve its current fields.

This fiscal year, the recreation and parks department has appropriated $1.76 million for park improvements in the county, according to budget documents. Staff plan to install a new lighting system for a multi-use athletic field at Chancellor’s Run Regional Park for $300,000, and at a baseball field at John V. Baggett Park in Laurel Grove for $143,000, according to the county’s capital budget.

Playgrounds at Dorsey Park and St. Andrew’s Estates Park are also slated to be replaced for $200,000, and restrooms are due to be improved at Dorsey Park for $125,000, and at John G. Lancaster, Baggett and Chancellor’s Run parks for $145,000.

Once the turf fields are finished at Chaptico, Chancellor’s Run and Lancaster, “that’ll be nine game fields that have come on board here in the last couple of years,” parks Director Arthur Shepherd told the recreation and parks advisory board last week. “That’s a magnificent improvement. Great support by the elected officials [and] the league input.”

Last week, Shepherd also floated out a proposal for three additional multi-sport Bermuda grass game fields, without lights, at Chaptico Park this year, which would be funded through the county’s allocation of program open space funds, provided by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources through state transfer tax.

“The state’s already reviewed my plan and finds the plan adequate,” Shepherd said, but “it still needs [county] commissioner approval.”

Adding three Bermuda fields at Chaptico with irrigation would cost around $400,000, but “that’s state money that’s already allotted to the county.”

If commissioners approve the allocation, “that would give us four new game fields at Chaptico,” including a new turf field, expected to start construction in October or November, Shepherd said in an interview.

This fiscal year, $3.42 million has been allocated for multi-use synthetic turf fields with lights at Chaptico, Chancellor’s Run and Lancaster parks. Requisition on those fields was approved late last month, Shepherd said.

At the meeting, Shepherd said the first turf field would likely be installed at Chaptico Park. There are currently two artificial turf fields in the county at St. Mary’s Ryken High School and at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

In fiscal 2021, $3.8 million is planned for additional synthetic fields at each of those three parks, according to budget documents, but the funding may be contingent on a public-private partnership with sports leagues like St. Mary’s Soccer, which has taken the helm to advocate for field improvements.

Sports leagues had been asked to fund possibly $320,000 for synthetic fields this fiscal year.

Shepherd told the advisory board there may be a choice to make between the three additional turf fields in 2021, and a planned sports complex, both of which are included in the county capital budget.

And with the St. Mary’s commissioners decision last week to fund $52,000 for a Maryland Stadium Authority sports complex feasibility study, the recreation and parks advisory board could seek to solicit public opinion.

If built, that sports complex is expected to have four turf fields, according to the capital budget.

“How could you not like a complex?” Shepherd said, but added geography, timing and funding were factors to consider.

Putting the additional fields at existing parks would mean “each area of the county would be well-served on the recreation side. … The other upside is timeliness.

Those fields would begin next year, as opposed to a sports complex,” planned, right now, to start construction in phases in 2021 and 2025, according to the capital budget.

Shepherd added that the complex would “be much more costly. We’re thinking starting around $20 million,” he told the board.

“You alluded there may be a decision between the money for the [complex] versus the turf fields going on,” Patrick Murphy, parks advisory board chair, said. “So what you’re thinking is maybe have a public forum on those two options and where the public stands.”

“Excellent way to bring it together,” Shepherd said. Those public comment periods could be scheduled this fall.

This year, recreation and parks’ capital budget totals $8.73 million, and also includes renovations to St. Clement’s Island Museum, Three Notch Trail construction, Elms Beach Park and Myrtle Point Park improvements, and funding to develop the Lexington Manor passive park.

Recreation and parks now oversees 128 baseball/softball, football and multi-purpose athletic fields in the county.

Twitter: @TaylorEntNews

Twitter: @TaylorEntNews