By Zoe Pierce
Special to the Sentinel
ROCKVILLE – The City of Rockville’s Mayor and City Council heard concerns about the turf fields at Julius West Middle School and addressed setbacks on Oct. 8.
While the installation of the turf fields at Julius West Middle School was in the works by Montgomery County Public Schools with the community since 2017, the fields are not yet accessible to all as the board waits to reach an agreement with the City of Rockville.
The meeting highlighted the division between some surrounding residents of the field and the parents of children who are waiting to have access for their soccer games through Montgomery Soccer Inc. (MSI), which contributed funds to the construction of the fields.
Residents from nearby neighborhoods expressed concerns about light spillage from the 10 light poles – which have a maximum height of 70 feet – as well as the number of trash cans, bathrooms available and parking spaces.
“Construction began with no written notice to us ever,” said Lyda Astrove, who lives close to the fields. With part of the agreement including the lights automatically shut off between 9:45 p.m. and 8 a.m., Astrove also said that “9:45 is too late to have these lights on at night, the lights will be visible from my bedroom window.”
Several parents of children who play with MSI came to the meeting with concerns for uncertain game scheduling, which they said the organization often reschedule games, as far as 30 minutes away, at the last minute.
Meanwhile, Brian Shipley, president of West End Citizens Association (WECA), supported the agreement saying he went to a testing of the light’s spillage and was “very pleasantly surprised with how little spillage there was” into surrounding neighborhoods.
“The bottom line in WECA supports the review,” Shipley said. “The community plans to monitor and offer future feedback.”
MSI sent an email to parents in September saying scheduling issues were due to the city not reaching an agreement with the Montgomery County Public Schools to allow them to use the turf fields. Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton said the email “blaming” Rockville for the delays was “unfortunate,” adding that “it’s incumbent on an organization, to be honest with its members.”
MSI released a statement on Sept. 25 stating that they did not have an opinion on the matter but they always relay rescheduled weekend games in a timely manner. The organization also said that they “did not intend to place the ‘blame’ on the City of Rockville” with their previous statements.
“It simply stated that we must have City of Rockville usage approval before MSI use may proceed and that the City of Rockville approval is not being provided until various issues can be agreed upon by MCPS and City of Rockville,” MSI said.
In a Sept. 18 meeting, residents of the field’s surrounding neighborhoods met with officials to express their concerns, a meeting that Councilman Mark Pierzchala said “started a little heated,” but eventually led to a back and forth discussion.
Brigitta Mullican, who is running for city council, asked the council to move forward with the agreement saying: “I attended that Sept. 18 meeting, and what was impressive about that meeting was that people got to have a dialogue back and forth.”
A point that remains a concern for residents is parking. And while the agreement outlines 240 parking spaces available for use by people utilizing the turf, speakers said this doesn’t account for spaces already being taken by students and faculty at the Chinese Academy, which uses the middle school’s space, and nearby Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witness.
Astrove asked the council to wait to approve the agreement until all community concerns have been addressed.
“What’s two weeks to 10 years,” Astrove said, citing what she said is the average lifespan of a turf field.
The mayor and council members, however, were not eager to put a hold on the agreement.
While Councilwoman Beryl Feinberg and Virginia Onley, as well as Mayor Newton, said the agreement needs clarification about who the rules apply to – supposedly to be anyone who is using the turf at any point – Pierzchala criticized that motion, saying he was “flabbergasted” and it adds unnecessary time to the process. Newton replied that delays were not the fault of the city.
“I think it’s time to stop blaming and start working together and get this done,” Newton said, apologizing for the inconvenience to families. “Let’s stop throwing the fingers at the City of Rockville, it’s not on us.”
Seth Adams, director of the Department of Facilities Management, said: “no one is placing blame.” He added that confusion earlier in the process about when the agreement with the community was needed, but he said does not believe there is any blame to be made.
The next Rockville Mayor and City Council Meeting will be held on Oct. 21, where the council is expected to address the agreement and put it to vote.