ROCKVILLE – A vote on the approval of the building of a $1.3 million stadium at Winston Churchill High School using private funds was canceled amid controversy over the approval of the stadium. Montgomery County Public Schools asked the County Council to remove the item from the July 29 council agenda.
“On the advice of counsel, (MCPS Superintendent) Dr. (Joshua) Starr asked the County Council to postpone final consideration of the supplemental appropriation request for the Churchill High School artificial turf project and the Council agreed. While we are under no obligation to do so, counsel believes it is prudent to hit the pause button given the pending litigation,” said MCPS spokesman Dana Tofig.
Montgomery Soccer Inc., one of the largest youth soccer leagues in the county with 15,000 members, filed a lawsuit against the MCPS Board of Education alleging the approval of new stadium fields by the BOE for Winston Churchill High School was unlawful and flawed. MSI alleges their bid was $25,000 higher than the one approved for Churchill. The lawsuit alleges MSI bids for use at other fields – including Gaithersburg and Richard Montgomery High School – were denied in favor of other organizations even after preliminary approval.
“MSI brings this suit to challenge the decisions of the BOE because it did not follow its own administrative regulations and procedures in making these decisions. The process by which these decisions were made was highly irregular and rife with conflicts of interest and false statements and ultimately because the Board’s decisions are detrimental to the youth of Montgomery County,” William J. Chen, a lawyer for MSI, said in the lawsuit.
The Churchill Booster club has committed $250,000 and the Bethesda Lacrosse/Potomac Soccer Association has pledged to contribute the remaining $1 million. In exchange for the monetary pledge, the organization will receive 1,000 hours of playing time in the new stadium. The public will receive 200 hours of time to use the field.
Some have expressed concern over the limited amount of time the public will be given to use the new stadium. Jerry Garson, treasurer of Regency Estates Citizens Association, told the BOE eliminating public access to the track and stadium would have a negative impact.
“We question why there was such a rush to build on the field of Winston Churchill High School before the public is presented with the full details of the proposed changes in the use of the field. Many residents utilize the track and stadium for recreational purposes when the stadium field is not in use. Taking away such access would be extremely detrimental to the neighborhood and its residents,” Garson said.
Council president Craig Rice (D-2) said the council will review the issue when it reconvenes in the fall.