Supervisors and school board members met Wednesday to talk about the school system’s long-term spending plans, and supervisors had questions.
The long-standing debate between the two boards over artificial turf fields took a turn the night before when the Board of Supervisors voted to relax its stance on testing the schools’ artificial turf fields for harmful substances. The board’s finance committee had recommended the county refuse to consider funding four new turf fields, which the School Board is trying to accelerate, unless the county is allowed to test existing turf fields.
Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) has also raised the possibility of looking into other, less controversial forms of artificial infill than crumb rubber. Previous staff reports have said that those alternative infills are more expensive, but Letourneau has asked staff to give those infills a second look, saying pricing may have changed due to market forces.
The Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest school system, stopped using crumb rubber infill in 2009 and has removed it from many of its preschools. Other school districts around the country have also backed away from using crumb rubber infill, which is made in part from recycled tires, although long-term studies to determine if there is a health risk from the infill have not yet been completed. Some parents worry there is a cancer risk associated with the crumb rubber; Letourneau said supervisors’ main concern was checking for dangerous levels of lead and arsenic in school fields.
Supervisor Tony R. Buffington Jr. (R-Blue Ridge) acknowledged he has been one of the drivers of the turf field debate.
“I’m really excited about the direction that Mr. Letourneau is talking about going in,” Buffington said. Letourneau has suggested that although other infills, made of new material instead of recycled tires, may have higher up-front costs, they may require less maintenance over time, leading to a similar lifetime cost for a field.
School Board Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) was receptive to the idea.
“I think things are changing rapidly in this industry, so we can always look at that again,” Hornberger said.
Supervisors also pushed school staff on their attendance projections, which have underestimated the number of new students in recent years. Letourneau suggested the schools could give more detailed responses when residential rezoning applications are sent to the schools for referral.
“In five years, I can’t remember too many times when there were any concerns or objections about any one of them coming to us,” Letourneau said. “So if there are concerns about crowding issues, then your referral is your opportunity to tell us about that. You don’t just have to give us numbers.”
County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) expressed concerns about School Board plans to convert Douglass School into office space.
“The importance of that school, and the amazing history of that school, should always be known and preserved, and I think that to some degree that could be lost in translation when you no longer have kids in the school,” Randall said.
Loudoun schools Department of Planning Services Director Dr. Sam Adamo also indicated that his department is already looking at the possibilities for designing urban schools in Loudoun’s planned urban developments, particularly around the Silver Line.