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Prince William County needs more playing fields for young baseball, lacrosse and football players that are well-maintained, close to clean restrooms and free of chicken bones and bird poop.

Those were among the messages about 200 parents and youth sports-league organizers brought to the Ferlazzo Building Wednesday night for a town hall discussion on fields and recreation facilities in Prince William County.

The forum was called by Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, R-At Large, who said he’s heard lots of complaints over the last several months about a lack of playing facilities for youth athletes across the county.

Stewart proposed in September a plan to spend between $17 and $21 million to add lights to more than three dozen existing football fields and baseball diamonds, to extend playing time and to build an additional 30 lighted fields across the county.

Stewart has also floated the idea of a new bond referendum of up to $50 million to build one or two indoor athletic facilities similar to the privately owned Sportsplex at Dulles. Stewart has also proposed building at least one indoor aquatics center that could provide badly needed pool space for local swimming teams.

All are proposed in addition to the $10.5 million indoor aquatics facility under consideration for the county’s new high school, which Stewart also supports.

But as a first step, Stewart called the town hall meeting to hear more from parents and youth-sports officials about the need for new playing fields and facilities, and to solicit ideas for how to pay for them.

Several speakers said the lack of playing fields is an ongoing frustration that has forced them to turn away new players. Several also said existing fields are difficult to reserve and are not always well maintained.

The playing field at Independent Hill, located next to the county landfill, was a source of numerous complaints. The field, used by both the American Pride Youth Football League and the Prince William Lacrosse Club, is beset by problems related to birds that forage the landfill for food scraps and then fly over the field, leaving a trail of rotting garbage, chicken bones, feathers and feces.

Jennifer Harrison, of Dumfries, said her boys play both lacrosse and football at the Independent Hill field. One has since developed asthma, which she blames at least partly on the filth on the field.

“They get sick a lot more during their sports seasons,” Harrison said.

Parents whose children play teams in Fairfax County, where lighted artificial turf fields are more common, said they’re embarrassed by the conditions at many Prince William County fields.

Jim Daum, of Nokesville, has a son who plays football and three girls who play lacrosse on a league that includes teams from Fairfax.

“I don’t think we play on one grass field up there,” Daum said. “They’re all turf fields and they’re all in excellent condition. … In general, I just want to stress that it is really an embarrassment when we play Fairfax teams and they come down to our county. … I’m not happy to say I’m from Prince William when they come down and see these conditions.”

League officials agree. The commissioners of youth lacrosse and football leagues who use the Independent Hill field, American Pride and PW Lacrosse, announced during the meeting they are “joining forces” to lobby for better playing fields.

In a press release, PW Lacrosse Commissioner Rich Creagh said Stewart’s plan for new and enhanced fields doesn’t go far enough.

“We strongly urge the Board of Supervisors to revise the plan and present a solution that includes new fields, better access to school fields and a better management system to allocate the use of those fields,” Creagh wrote.

Use of existing fields was a hot topic of discussion, as many parents wondered why reserving fields at county middle schools – which have a use agreement with the county parks department – is sometimes difficult.  Other parents wanted to know why the county high schools aren’t available to local clubs on the weekends.

“We wouldn’t need a bunch of new fields if we could just use the high schools,” said one man from the audience.

Christopher Berry noted that the county’s existing fields are not accessible to children who want to practice or play informal pick-up games. Berry said he uses the Chinn Aquatics and Fitness Center often and notices that several nearby soccer fields are usually empty – except for a posted sign that reads: “For use by permit only.”

“And I think, what an awful waste,” Berry said. “Why not make one of those fields a non-permit field so kids can play a pick-up game or kick the ball around for a while?”

In addition to Stewart, county Supervisors Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, Maureen Caddigan, R-Potomac, John Jenkins, D-Neabsco, and Frank Principi, D-Woodbridge, also attended the meeting, and mostly remained quiet to listen to input from attendees.

Debbie Andrew, executive director of the county Department of Parks and Recreation, said the county offers numerous playing fields and facilities, including 126 soccer fields, 44 baseball diamonds, 56 little league fields, 89 softball fields, 39 football fields, three lacrosse fields, 25 basketball courts and 36 swimming lanes, which include pools at Chinn, Dale City Recreation Center and Freedom Aquatic and Fitness Center.

Some field improvements are underway, Andrew added, including two new football/lacrosse fields at Veterans Park; a new restroom facility at Hellwig Park; lighting for a softball and little league field at Catharpin Park, three new lighted little league fields at Fuller Heights Park; and five new lighted soccer fields and Rollins Ford Park.  The county is also paying to install lights at Potomac Middle School’s football field, Andrew said.

But Stewart acknowledged that a county of nearly 430,000 residents – many of them with children – needs more playing space. When Andrew asked for ideas for paying for additional facilities, attendees offered a range of responses – including soliciting corporate sponsorships and asking housing developers to build fields or contribute to their construction. 

Developers seeking approvals for land rezonings are often asked to donate land for playing fields and pay some cash proffers for recreational facilities. But some suggested they should pay more.

Tucker Ophof, a lacrosse parent, wanted to know why real-estate tax money and league fees already paid to the county are not enough to properly maintain existing fields.

“I guess the question goes back to you,” Ophof said. “If we are already paying for these fields, why can’t we get access to them and why can’t they be maintained?”

Woodbridge High School lacrosse coach and active-duty Marine Ryan Tice encouraged county leaders to develop a comprehensive plan to address field needs in both the near and long-term.

“We need to take a hard look at what the problem is currently and what can be done to buy time to make decisions for the long term,” Tice said. “We need big thinkers to solve this problem … otherwise we’ll waste a lot of taxpayer time and a lot of taxpayer money, and ultimately it’s the young people who will pay the price.”

At the close of the nearly two-hour forum, Stewart thanked attendees for their input and said the parks department would include their comments in a needs-assessment report expected to be complete by the end of the month. The Board of Supervisors will work on a proposal to pay for new facilities, he said.

Stewart said the county prides itself on having some of the lowest real-estate tax bills in Northern Virginia, but realizes the need to invest in new athletic facilities.

“We are going to be able to keep your tax bills low, but at the same time we have to find a way to improve facilities,” he said. “We have the means. We’re the seventh-wealthiest county in the U.S. We can address this.” 

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(12) comments

EdP

The playing field at Independent Hill, located next to the county landfill, was a source of numerous complaints. ... is beset by problems related to birds that forage the landfill for food scraps and then fly over the field, leaving a trail of rotting garbage, chicken bones, feathers and feces.

This high school and pool is going to be a great asset [sad]

OurSchools


Folks this is the field between the landfill and the 12th high school. Will your kids attend the 12th high school and are you concerned? These parents are complaining that their kids are sick more often during sports season because they are playing on fields at the landfill. Kids at the 12th high school will be there for over 7 hours a day, 180 days a year. Seriously think this out.

msssjenna

3 lacrosse fields? Do they not know you can play lacrosse on a soccer field? As a high school coach, travel coach, an alumni lacrosse player of the county, and a mother to an anklebiter (tackle football) I agree they can do better with providing field use to the smaller sports. We dont have to practice on the high schools game fields but why cant we make use of the practice fields? Add lights to the fields and help the schools with the upkeep. Much better than a pool.

tnargi

to: Jill Palermo,
How about writing about the rest of what was said at that meeting??? All 10 High School Fields are CLOSED to the taxpayers of PW County, the current rules have an agreement between the Parks Authority and Schools to use the fields however the AD's have discretion to close them off under the current rules.
The School Board person was asked a direct question: "Why are the HS fields closed", they could not, or worse, would not answer the question....why would the question not be answered??
Simple; and many people know this, the Schools AD's are (not all.... but it IS happening for the past umpteen years), allowing outside private entities, many from Fairfax, to pay them for the use of the HS fields. So the reality is; as long as you pay up you get to use the field. Now I ask is this even legal???? Fraud, Corruption, Criminal?? Anyone???
Here we have 10 HS in PW paid for by the taxpayers, the sports groups paying fees on top of that and we/they cannot use them??? Because the AD's have them all LOCKED down,( for who???) and now we are talking about paying more taxes for more fields??? That’s LUDICRIS …..THE FIELDS ARE THERE!!! just not for PW county residence I guess!!!!
Why not report this??? Better yet why not investigate this???

Hsathletics

tnargi, This post could not be more wrong. The problem with your comments are they are all inaccurate assumptions. There are people out there that will read your post and believe w

tnargi

...I guess you have the first hand knowledge of EXACTLY how many times I personnaly went through losing a HS field to an outside private entity who paid the School and/or the AD of the school...........I't always amazes me how others like to speak for others ACTUAL experiences................go ahead.......keep your head in the sand and wait another 15 years to see if you can get on one of the taxpayer funded school fields.....in the mean time stop speaking for other people.

Hsathletics

No, no, no. I don't care about your few experiences. I am telling you that you have no idea how high school fields stay in nice condition. You assume these fields get taken care of by the county? Nope. Taxpayer money? Nope. Taxpayer money goes to books and school Again, pennies come from the county to athletics. Schools Fundraise and get money from gate to pay for athletic equipment, officials, field maintenance, etc. don't get angry. Just comprehend what I am telling you. Fight the system and change it. ADs would thank you if they could get money from the school system. Fight the pool and use that 10 million to put turf field at all the high schools. Then the public schools can play all they want.

Hsathletics

What you posted, but they like you do not know the system in place. To suggest the ADs a corrupt is hilarious.

I do believe there are two main issues that need to be resolved to get the public on school fields. 1). Schools do not get any money from the school system to run athletics programs. Budget is strictly based on money made from gate. Fair fax and Loudoun schools have a much better system in place to run school athletics. 2). Maintain high quality fields- Communties have put tremendous pressure on schools to maintain high quality fields. This cannot be done if everybody plays on the school fields. Maintenance costs money. Athletic expenses are astronomical. The two possible solutions are to have all fields go to synthetic grass and have the county pay for the best quality dirt to be replaced every year on baseball/ softball fields. The second option is to have the school system and county parks and rec start the schools each year with some money. As of now the schools get $0. You may wonder why school teams Fundraise so much? There's your answer. There are school teams that Fundraise to maintain there fields. That is sad.

pdno

The issue with field allocation comes down to the domination of soccer and it being a favorite of the Sport Services Manager. Over the longest time soccer had the larger numbers for field allocation and PWSI, MCSA, VSA were a favorite to the manager. OSC wasn't as popular because they were a larger non-white group. The football group was larger African-American and the manager wouldn't give them field space no matter what their numbers were, if soccer gave up a crappy field it may have been tossed their way. Pop Warner, DCSC and APYFL we allocated fields with horrible playing conditions. About 6 years ago softball got all the new fields (complex) and lights because two boards members were on the Softball Council and ran tournament and leagues.The baseball leagues had limited light access, when adult softball wasn't using them and adult baseball had to beg for every moment they earned at the old Potomac Cannons now Potomac Nationals field and that was county maintained. Lacrosse can about fighting for field space under soccer and since soccer was a favorite of the Sport Services manager they still don't stand a change at getting a soccer field. The high schools are an impossible files allocation to get, they are lock down for what ever reason. If they are available they will charge tax payers some crazy fee of $35/hr for a custodian. I don't know a custodian in PWC that makes that kind of money. Some leagues have tried to partner with schools doing field improvements and when the field is put in decent condition they kick the league off after the improvements. The issues with field allocation isn't new, but the rosters and allocation numbers should be reviewed.

Paul Miller

There may be some truth in what you are posting, but in my view not much. I flat out don't believe racism has anything to do with field assignments.

Soccer gets the most fields because the numbers of kids who play soccer is far bigger than any other sport - bigger than all other sports combined, last I heard.

Occoquan Soccer doesn't get fields anymore because it is seemingly so disorganized, assuming it even still exists. Check the standings across age groups and genders for National Capital Soccer League, Old Dominion Soccer League or Washington Area Girls Soccer. If you find an Occoquan team, let us know. I haven't even heard of a recreational structure. They don't field teams anymore and they still owe past dues to at least Old Dominion Soccer League. I don't believe their plight has anything to do with ethnic discrimination.

My kid plays with a club up in Fairfax County, but he previously played with PWSI. Trust me - in both counties, there is not enough soccer fields to meet that demand, either. At least Fairfax County allows clubs to use school fields for practices. My kid's team practices up at Bryant H.S., and that field - like Coach above said - is scheduled for six teams simultaneously. Three of those teams in our timeslot are U-16 or above. A sixth of a field at that age if fine for a lot of practice plans but not all. We're losing player development because of insufficient space.

Coach

I have been a volunteer soccer coach in PW county for 10 years and attended this meeting. I can tell you by first hand experience that field space is a real premium (especially rectangular fields). it is not uncommon to have six or more recreational soccer teams vying for space on one medium size field. The fact is that the County has grown and we desperately need to play catch up on both the number and quality of fields. I am hopeful that we will continue to aggressively push forward with these much needed improvements while prioritizing improvements based on the greatest needs. This is the type of investment that will pay back the county many times over by improving the quality of life of residents (keep home values higher) and improving the tax base. Many residents may not realize that sports teams can bring in huge amounts of money to the County by hosting tournaments with out of town visitors who stay in hotels, shop, eat, etc. It also makes the County more attractive to businesses and desirable to live in.

Murcer

Maybe time to take this story down.

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