On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
From lacrosse to soccer, football to ice hockey, recreational sports leagues for children and adults are thriving in our region. The result is stiff competition for a place to play. We explore the growing demand for athletic fields and facilities, and examine local efforts to balance the needs of sports leagues, school teams and individuals for limited public resources.
- Jesus Aguirre Director, D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation
- Lawrence Pierce Director, Community Services, Bowie, Maryland
- Doug Schuessler Executive Director, Montgomery Soccer, Inc. (MSI)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Last fall D.C.'s largest youth soccer league claimed the city shut it out of prime afternoon practice times on public athletic fields.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe city insisted it was simply giving everyone equal access and could not let one group monopolize the fields. The public feud highlighted what's obvious to anyone whose kids play youth sports, there are a lot of teams and a lot of competition for places to play.
MR. KOJO NNAMDISchool and park fields are packed from the end of the school day until the sun goes down with soccer, lacrosse, baseball, football. On weekends youth and adult teams use the fields all day. The result, a growing outcry across our region for more athletic, more facilities.
MR. KOJO NNAMDISome communities are replacing grass with turf to expand play ability. Others including the District of Columbia are launching studies to figure out how to meet this rising demand in an area where land is expensive and the population is growing it's hard for supply to keep up.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd joining us in studio to discuss it is Jesus Aguirre. He is director of the District of Columbia's Department of Parks and Recreation. Jesus Aguirre, thank you for joining us.
MR. JESUS AGUIRREThank you.
NNAMDIAlso with us is Larry Pierce, director of Community Services in Bowie, Md. Larry Pierce, thank you for joining us.
MR. LAWRENCE PIERCEThank you. It's a pleasure.
NNAMDIAnd Doug Schuessler is executive director of the Montgomery Soccer Incorporated better known as MSI. Doug, thank you for joining us.
MR. DOUG SCHUESSLERThank you.
NNAMDIYou too can join this conversation, it's easy. Just call 800-433-8850, you can send email to email@example.com. Do you have a child who plays on a youth soccer team? Do you have trouble finding a place to practice and play games? What do you do about that? 800-433-8850, you can also send us a tweet @kojoshow. Jesus, can you explain where the growing demand for fields and facilities is coming from? Is it mostly youth sports league, adult leagues?
AGUIRREActually it's a little bit of everything. Certainly the youth sports leagues are growing tremendously as are the adult leagues and our own programming. I think that a lot of us both locally and regionally and nationally are really pushing our residents to go outdoors and be physically active and they're doing that and so that's adding a lot more pressure to our fields.
NNAMDIIn addition to which our population seems to be growing in the city, how much?
AGUIRREWe're gaining about 1,100 residents a month which is an incredible growth rate in D.C. We're actually the fastest growing state, as the mayor likes to say, in the country.
NNAMDIAnd that means that a lot of those people are young people who are interested in playing sports.
NNAMDIHow many fields does D.C. Parks and Recreation manage and how many applications do you get to use them?
AGUIRRESure. So we have a total of about 116 fields, the athletic fields, in the District and on a regular basis we get literally hundreds of requests for permits. And we sort of manage that a couple of different ways because the bulk of our use for the fields is sort of the seasonal sports such as soccer, football, baseball, et cetera.
AGUIRRESo we manage those through a couple of permitting windows. The idea is that users who are interested in playing during those windows submit permits during this two week, permit requests during the two week window. During that window we consider them all as if they were received at the same time. And then we sort of work some magic to try to accommodate as many youth as possible.
AGUIRRENot everyone gets everything that they want but we try to give everyone some. And then we have our own prioritization for how we allocate them. So our programs get first priority the ones that are designed by the agency and then public school programs get next priority whether they're DCPS schools or charter schools. And then any other programs with children and then the adults are sort of on the bottom of our prioritization list.
NNAMDILarry Pierce, the city of Bowie in Prince George's County is facing similar demand for indoor athletic space from basketball, volleyball and ice hockey teams. What facilities do you have now and how has the demand grown?
PIERCEThe demand is outstanding. We are a little different than some of our sister cities that are a little larger. We're the fifth largest city in the state but we don't run the leagues. We don't buy the jerseys, we don't bring the officials, we don't buy the trophies.
PIERCEWe're the allocator. That is a very, very difficult role. We've been doing this now for about 20 years but the population growth has really taken off in the last 15 years. We've grown from a community of 37,000 to a community of 57,000. And as a contrast to the District field count my staff allocates 120 fields that are owned by the city of Bowie, the board of education or the park and planning commission.
PIERCESo we are the ultimate law when it comes to allocations. We deal with 80 independent organizations and of the 120 fields the city owns 42 of those own. 20 of those have lights on them and we have over 80,000 hours worth of programming in a given calendar year and we allocate those twice a year.
PIERCEIt's very successful. When you deal with the groups they know what we have and what we don't have. Our push now is to, is for indoor sports. We have now gotten to the point where we have to master plan this and we have to do it with speed and with some knowledge.
PIERCEWe brought in a major consultant to help us through. We're looking to build a $10 million indoor sports facility. We've done major engagements with all the 80 groups. We've done individual sit downs, we've done surveys. We have an online survey for the residents.
PIERCEI can tell you that when we went into this from a staff perspective we thought we were going to get certain answers and we were going to get certain priorities and we're getting a very different field from the community than what we thought. So it's been an excellent exercise that will culminate in early June with a report to the city council.
NNAMDIBetween now and early June since you've brought in the consultant, May 7th next Monday or next Tuesday you're going to be having a public hearing. Who do you expect to weigh in at that hearing?
PIERCEWe've heard from all the organized groups and their leaders. What we're looking for now is the family member or somebody who is not organized, who's not part of that. We want to make sure we're getting everybody whether it's walker, it's a birdwatcher. Is it somebody who wants to do archery, you know, what is it?
PIERCEWe've done surveys that listed every sport from archery to Zumba and we're getting tremendous responses from the folks. So we're trying to get anybody and everybody who is not organized so that we can't be criticized that we didn't reach out to the entire community.
NNAMDIDoug Schuessler, you run MSI the biggest youth soccer program in Montgomery County. How many kids in your program and where do your teams practice and play their games?
SCHUESSLERWe have about 14,000 kids that are engaged in MSI soccer each year and, you know, they play all over Montgomery County. The heaviest use, the heaviest density is in the lower and mid county, Bethesda, Potomac, Rockville, Silver Spring, Kensington, North Potomac, Gaithersburg and access to fields is our absolute number one problem. And the quality of those fields of course is the problem 1A.
NNAMDIYou've said a lot of the public fields are used so much that the grass is torn up and they're in bad shape. Can you describe your concerns about the condition of school and park fields in the county?
SCHUESSLERWell, I think, you know, a lot of times people talk about safety hazards and I think that that's sometimes a little overblown. But there are safety hazards out there. When you have a field that is rutted, that has rocks that come to the surface as part of the natural process it can be a problem.
SCHUESSLERWhen you have goals that have concrete anchors that are exposed because of erosion you have safety concerns. But I think that the bigger issue when we talk about the quality of fields is how well can they stand up to rain and do you have to cancel games when it rains or are you able to let the kids play?
SCHUESSLERAnd then, you know, in addition to that what is their experience when they play out there? And I use the comparison that is an easy, I think, for everybody to grasp and that is, if you were playing basketball in a gymnasium that had floorboards that were popped up, that had nails exposed and players were dribbling the ball and it bounced off these awkward floorboards, it wouldn't be fun.
SCHUESSLERAnd if it's not fun then kids look for something else to do that is fun and we've lost an opportunity to have a healthy outlet and to encourage the kind of behavior that we want to see in our community.
NNAMDIWe're talking about competition for athletic playing fields and facilities in the Washington area with Doug Schuessler. He is executive director of Montgomery Soccer Incorporated or MSI. Larry Pierce is director of Community Services for Bowie, Md. And Jesus Aguirre is director of the District of Columbia Department of Parks and Recreation.
NNAMDIWe're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. We'd like to go to Rob in Kingman Park D.C. Rob, you're on the air, go ahead please.
ROBHello, thank you very much. I first want to congratulate Mr. Aguirre for his work to try to address this issue. but also at the same time I would like to sort of point out that there's a very simple way that you could dramatically increase the amount of the playing fields there are for kids, which is to tap into the Riverdale, the Friends of Riverside Park proposal.
ROBWhich has proposed to convert the RFK Stadium parking, part of it, only a small part of it, the northern side of it into playing fields. We actually have an architect that's done design of it based on the community meeting that we had with all the neighbors in Kingman Park.
ROBBut it seems like the administration and this mayor is more interested in bringing the Redskins in 20 or 30 years than in addressing the needs of the communities and of the children this year. So I'd like to get a response on that. The, this proposal was actually voted the most popular in the sustainability D.C. survey that the city did last year but mysteriously, when the sustainability D.C. proposal came out it was not mentioned anywhere.
ROBIt got like 3,000 votes versus 500. So we're just wondering if the administration is going to go and really help the communities or is it going to put this elusive goal of trying to bring back the Redskins ahead of the interests of the children of Ward 6, 5 and 7 and 8 to get real playing fields in a really cost effective manner that's fully supported by the community.
NNAMDIAnd that ladies and gentlemen is your welcome to Jesus Aguirre's world.
AGUIRREThank you Kojo and thank you Rob. I mean, I think as you stated so one of the challenges we have in Washington D.C. is identifying parcels of land frankly that we could turn into fields. There are very few and those that are there are already tied up in some sort of development process or are incredibly expensive.
AGUIRRESo, you know, I really, I'm not going to really weigh in too much on sort of a plan for the area around the RFK and those. I know the mayor, deputy mayor, for planning economic development is leading that effort but, you know, we're certainly committed to continue to work with the mayor and whatever comes out of that process to ensure that we create additional outdoor facilities for the residents.
NNAMDIAnd here's another part of Jesus Aguirre's world, in the fall D.C.'s biggest youth soccer program started soccer, accused you of shutting them out of weekday afternoon practices, practice times on city fields. Talk about the times of day when demand is highest and how you decide which gets practice slots?
NNAMDIYou've already mentioned the priority here city recreation programs, public schools, children, groups that have nothing to do with children just adults. But talk a little bit more about that.
AGUIRRESure. You know, I think in addition to the fact that these programs continue to grow and again we encourage it. And organizations like Stoddard and others are really wonderful organizations that we support because they very much support our mission. I think that the bottom line, it comes down though to competition for very specific times of field play.
NNAMDI6:00 to 8:00 pm?
AGUIRREAnd actually in the winter it's earlier than that, you know, for the fields that are not lit, you know, it's getting dark even earlier than that. So the key after school hours and of course they also, parents also, when you want to take your kids to soccer practice you have a very short window of opportunity to get them there right after school.
AGUIRRESo the geography's important as well as the daylight hours. And, you know, to your question about how we allocate the fields, as I mentioned, you know, unfortunately it's a little bit more art than science. Well, it's both, but I think there's more art to it than, I think, our constituents want to believe. I think the reality is that we could have a very clear process where we can do an electronic online system where we open it up like a lottery and people get what they get. I think that that wouldn't serve the constituents. I think the process that we have as we receive these applications is really worked very individually, especially with the larger groups to make sure that they get as much time as they want -- as they need.
AGUIRREAnd in fact, when we look at groups like Stoddard, they are absolutely a priority for us just because of the history there, just because of the sheer number of young folks participating. And they do in fact get a majority of the time in the fields that they request.
NNAMDIAnd here now is Carlos in Potomac, Md. Carlos, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CARLOSYes, good morning, Kojo. And thank you very much for taking my call. And I just want to congratulate everybody, just the fact that we are talking about these problems, it is already a step forward. Mine is not a question, it's just a comment. The comment is that (unintelligible) soccer fields in Columbia area -- I live in Potomac -- and Montgomery County, yes, they do have a high demand for soccer fields and for the kids. And as a player, as a dad, as an avid fan, you know, my interest will be probably to see if there is any ideas on changing some of these natural grass fields into artificial turf fields.
CARLOSI understand that those are -- the maintenance are much, much easier and it will last a long time and also pay the usage. And that was it. Thank you very much for taking my call.
NNAMDIAnd therefore, Doug, your turn, Doug Schuessler.
SCHUESSLERThank you. Carlos, that's a great point and certainly there's a tremendous amount of conversation going on in Montgomery County about converting fields from natural turf to artificial. There are, in reality, some very vocal opponents of that process, largely on environmental grounds, or they're perceived -- there are perception that there are environmental issues. But larger than that, in Montgomery County they have chosen to view synthetic turf fields as impervious surfaces which greatly changes the regulatory process associated with being able to install a synthetic turf field.
SCHUESSLERI agree with you. Having more artificial turf field rather than less has tremendous opportunity to benefit the kids and the programs that we all say that we want to support. But right now, the regulatory process is a very difficult hurdle in Montgomery County.
NNAMDIThat does not seem to be the case in Washington, D.C., Jesus, because you're talking about increasingly replacing grass with manmade turf to -- and adding lights to allow evening play. Talk about that.
AGUIRREWe are. You know, I think again, as one of the ways to try to solve the amount of field space -- field time available is to do just that. To try to build as many artificial turf fields as we can. And I think D.C. is ahead of the game there. They started several years ago with the high schools, and all of the high schools have artificial turf fields, many of the middle schools. And every opportunity that we get within the Department of Parks and Recreation we try to do the same thing, as you said.
AGUIRREAnd then we also try to do lights. And lights are obviously also controversial. And we want to make sure that we don't disturb the communities around the fields. But as much as we can that adds several hours into each day for playable field time.
NNAMDICarlos, thank you very much for your call. Larry, indoor facilities like gyms and ice rinks are a little easier to manage in terms of the fact that they have longer hours thanks to lights. How do you create the schedule for the gym in Bowie?
PIERCEThe gym in Bowie, to give you a handle on the volume, we have a four-court indoor municipally-owned gymnasium. We get over 300,000 people a year through the door. It's incredible.
PIERCEBut it is so well maintained it looks like it just opened. So the city government's commitment to that facility is extraordinary. Those users -- we're at a point where you can't get space in the gymnasium, even if you are the resident nonprofit, the local Bowie Boys and Girls Club, South Bowie Boys and Girls Club. You may be in AAUW, you may be CYO, there's no room. And that -- between the population growth and the growth of the programs being offered, that's very difficult.
PIERCEEverybody, as we said before, wants that magical Monday through Thursday 6:00 to 8:00. That's both outdoor and indoor. We are fortunate that we also, in addition to that post 3:00 push for organized groups, we take care of home school children. We do senior activities.
NNAMDISeniors in the morning.
PIERCESeniors in the morning. Get them out there and walk because right next door to that is the Bowie Senior Center. So you can make a full day of that. the ice arena that we've had since 1970 is open almost 18 hours a day. And the volume there again is extraordinary.
NNAMDIEven got home school kids who use it.
AGUIRREHome school, yes, yes.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your call. If you haven't yet and you'd like to, the number's 800-433-8850. What do you think local governments can do to increase the number of athletic fields available for residents and teens, 800-433-8850? You can also go to our website kojoshow.org and join the conversation there, or send us a Tweet at kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about competition for athletic playing fields and facilities in the Washington area. Our guests, Larry Pierce is director of community services for Bowie, Md. Doug Schuessler is executive director of Montgomery County -- Montgomery Soccer, Inc., better known as MSI. And Jesus Aguirre is director of the District of Columbia Department of Parks and Recreation. You can call us at 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIHow do you make sure that people who do not play organized sports are not shut out of city parks and fields? But there's still time for the neighborhood kids who want to play catch or a group of colleagues who want to play some ultimate Frisbee after work, Jesus
AGUIRREIt's a challenge and, you know, we're focused on trying to build in community time at each of our fields. Now, that actually tends to become a bigger issue, when we have fields that are recently refurbished that maybe weren't used by some of the athletic teams, etcetera. And now all of a sudden if we have a brand new synthetic turf field with lights, everybody wants to use it, which we are very conscious of that. We want to make sure that we don't shut out the community.
AGUIRRESo we've done it at several fields now where at certain times during the weekend or in the evenings we close -- we don't permit it and we just allow it for open community time. But the interesting thing is in even those times folks then start organizing pickup games. And then all of a sudden they become an organized team and then it's no longer community time. So it's an interesting challenge we've got.
NNAMDILarry Piece, how do you account for that in Bowie?
PIERCEWe do two things. When we design a park we make sure that the entire park space is not fully utilized. We like to have large tree buffers. We like to have walking paths. We like to have garden areas where there's parking. We also have -- in our larger parks we have large ponds. We have amphitheaters. We have dedicated open space for concerts. We want everybody to come and we want everybody to have a good time, whether you're just jogging after work, you're walking your dog, junior is in a soccer game. You just want to have some quiet time, you can do that at the majority of our municipal facilities.
NNAMDIAnd Doug, how do you balance the high demand for fields with the need to give the grass some time off so it can grow? Do you give the fields any time out?
SCHUESSLERIn Montgomery County they do have a program in place for many of the parks where they will close the field down periodically. I want to say every five years is kind of an estimate where they'll say, we're going to shut this field down for one or two seasons. And there's a little triage that goes along with that to find the ones that are most in need.
SCHUESSLERYou know, unfortunately that also has the side effect then of further consolidating the available pool. And the level of usage needs to be the same so the remaining fields are then even more heavily used. So it's a good policy but, you know, ultimately we keep coming back to that singular problem, that there simply are not enough fields, not enough resources for the broad community's needs and desires.
NNAMDIYou've said one solution to the high demand is to repurpose some existing fields and add new ones. Which fields would you shift to new uses? And in a county with such high-priced land, how do you build new fields?
SCHUESSLERWell, the repurposing is something that's been talked about in our county for the, you know, they call it conversion. And they've talked about doing a formal conversion study. And they've analyzed the demand for different types of fields in different areas. And overall, if you look at sort of the rollup figures, the studies will say that there is a, you know, I would use the term massive shortage of rectangular fields for sports that utilize rectangular shapes. And there is a significant excess of diamond-shaped fields.
SCHUESSLERNow if you look in any one small geographic area, you might see -- you'll see variances on that, but overall a significant excess of diamond-shaped fields. And that's simply a function of the changing in patterns of people's recreational preferences over years. That may change again 20, 30 years from now. But, you know, right now there's a substantially reduced demand for diamond play relative to rectangular play.
SCHUESSLERAnd so we should really be looking at our regional parks especially, which are overwhelmingly purposed for diamond play. Those are the parks where they have control in the number of hours of play that will go on and where the highest maintenance occurs. Which ironically rectangular sports need those two features far more so than diamond sports need those features.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones again. We'll go to Ella in Washington, D.C. Ella, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ELLAYes. Thank you so much, Kojo. And I love your show and I particularly like this one. I'm an ex-New Yorker and I've also lived outside of the United States, particularly in Japan. Why is no one thinking about using roof tops? I went to high school -- high school years in New York City. We played basketball on the roof. In Japan virtually there's almost a whole city on rooftops there. And since Washington is becoming like other high-density areas, are we considering any of these areas for expansion of opportunity for sports? I'd like to hear...
NNAMDII'd like to hear all of our panelists respond to that. Jesus?
AGUIRRESure. Thank you, Ellen. I think that we're not there yet but we're getting there. I will say one of the larger construction projects that we have underway right now is the rebuilding of the Berry Farm Recreation Center that will include an indoor -- excuse me, indoor gym but also an indoor pool. Because of the land and the way it's designed that we're actually building a roof-top playground there. But because of the grading it doesn't feel like it's a couple stories high.
AGUIRREBut I think, you know, Ella's right in sort of the -- I think in New York certainly the rooftop playgrounds are probably a response to this density. In D.C. we have similar issues. So I will not be surprised that we'll see more of those. I've seen a couple where charter schools especially have utilized sort of their restrictions on land as opportunities to build rooftop playgrounds. But I suspect we're going to see more of that.
NNAMDIHave you heard anything, ideas along that line in Bowie, Larry Pierce?
PIERCEWe haven't but I've written that down to speak to our consultant about that next week. With the Bowie experiences, one where it's a -- began as a late -- mid to late '60s (word?) bedroom community. And we're still a bedroom community where land is still available. I think the line in the sand is when the land is no longer available or it becomes absolutely prohibitive, then our mind's set on how we tackle this issue is going to be forced. We're going to have to force our hand to do that.
PIERCEBut I think, yeah, any new facility that's out there that's being considered or constructed has got to have that aspect on it.
NNAMDIThere's rooftops and then there is Judy in Alexandria, Va. with yet another suggestion. Judy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JUDYHi, thanks for having me. I chair the Park and Recreation Commission in Alexandria and we have many of the exact problems that have been discussed on this program. Aggressively going to convert our grass fields to turf fields, but we are looking for any innovation we can find. And one of those things is our sewer authority here needed to increase capacity. So they -- instead of bringing in pre -- like, I guess sort of pre-constructed someplace else, a couple of tanks, real big by the beltway that the property is located.
JUDYThey're going to build a very large tank on site which will on the top feature a full-size artificial turf athletic field with lights and restroom facilities. And that's the kind of innovation that we're going to. So we're looking at rooftops and top of parking garages already here in our community. We don't have the land. We're getting very dense. But the sewer authority worked very closely with us to make sure that this is going to occur. It'll be under construction very soon.
NNAMDIAnd, Jesus, it just makes me feel as if what we're doing here is having our minds expanded as to the possibilities, especially in urban areas.
AGUIRRESure. No, and we have to get creative. And I'm glad Judy brought that up. I mean, certainly in D.C. we're also looking at every opportunity. I will say that similar to what's happening in Bowie and has happened in Maryland in Montgomery County, D.C. has just embarked on our own for DPR, our own master plan that will really help us (unintelligible) our constituents look at sort of best practices. Try to find -- identify sort of the service level gaps across the city so that we can determine where and when we should be building or not building.
AGUIRREBut I think the issue of being creative, I think there's another reason to do what Judy's describing in terms of just sort of how we're building more sustainable city. And I think the mayor has a very ambitious sustainable D.C. initiative that forces us to look at everything. And to give you an example, one of the more exciting projects that's underway right now in DPR is we're renovating 32 playgrounds. And we're doing it in such a way to rethink the way we think about outdoor play, so it's not just playgrounds but play spaces.
AGUIRREWe'll do some of the things that Larry's talking about in terms of making these intergenerational. So these will have walking trails. They'll have outdoor fitness centers. They'll have gardens and of course some play spaces. But we're also making sure that if we're building this we're thinking about things like storm water retention and looking at sort of the green infrastructure. And in that way we're able to tap into other funding streams, such as Department of the Environment has some grants available. And of course we'll work with D.C. water and General Manager Hawkins to see if we can tap into some of the large infrastructure investment money that he has.
NNAMDIJudy, thank you very much for your call. We got an email from Joseph in Bethesda who said, "The MSI rep seemed to imply that the current quality of fields harms players and leads to injuries. Are there any data on player injuries?" Doug Schuessler?
SCHUESSLERNo. Actually I would clarify. Actually, what I suggested was that the discussion of whether fields are presenting safety hazards is probably a little overblown actually. That, you know, the real issue is that, yes, you'll see turned ankles. You may see -- you know, you may see a broken ankle at some point. So I'm not saying that it never happens, but that I don't think that the safety issue itself is really that big of a deal.
SCHUESSLERI think it's much more an issue of it's very difficult to actually play the games well and enjoy yourself when you have a surface that is so rutted and bumpy and...
NNAMDIYou don't know what direction the ball is going to go and after it lands.
SCHUESSLERSure. You know, how can you get better at a game if the surface actually, you know, prevents that from happening?
NNAMDIAnd I think that's what Avee (sp?) in Bladensburg, Md. wants to talk about. Avee, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
AVEEHi, Kojo. Thanks. I'm the head coach of the Bladensburg varsity men's soccer team. And actually in response to your previous caller, I also had something to add. There's actually papers coming out of UNC Chapel Hill that talk about how field conditions interact with injuries. I'm also an epidemiologist so that's the reason why I’m particularly concerned with that.
AVEEBut my point more so has to deal with P. G. County fields. I mean, I grew up in P. G. County and went to high school at Eleanor Roosevelt High School. And we've historically played on cow pastures our entire life. And my point is -- I mean, at what point -- where on the priority list is the maintenance and the development of these fields on the priority list on the totem pole? Because, I mean, it doesn't seem like it gets any better. There's talk about bringing in turf fields to P. G. County. But, to be honest, it doesn't seem like, you know, in the meantime there's anything done to better our fields.
AVEEI mean, I don't train at my high school. I can't train my kids at my high school because, you know, five, ten sessions down the line, it doesn't hold up. And forget tactics. It's like you guys were saying, there's no reason in even thinking about tactics and -- because you don't know where the ball's going to go after bouncing off the turf. And that being said, how far does that hold back the development of our players as well?
NNAMDIAny information about that on Prince George's County in general as opposed to Bowie in particular, Larry Pierce?
PIERCEIn Bowie it's very clear where the premier fields are. And they're the ones that are city-owned and city-maintained. And it's one of my 11 divisions that handles that and we get nothing but compliments. The Park and Planning Commission does a good job. I will say they do a very, very good job. The weakness here is in the school board fields. We're not even allowed to go onto the fields when school's in session so what we do is we arrive when school is out of session.
PIERCEAnd that's the only way we can get some of the fields primed, not to the level we would like, or to what the user would like, but we get in there and we do what we can do. So it's a school board policy to keep the municipality off their fields, and they don't have the dollars to do it, and there are lots of examples of poor maintenance there. It's an ongoing struggle.
NNAMDIAvee, thank you very much for your call. We've got to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. If you'd like to, the number is 800-433-8850. Are the fields in your community in good shape? You can also send us email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about competition for athletic playing fields and facilities. We're talking with Jesus Aguirre. He is director of the District of Columbia Department of Parks and Recreation. Doug Schuessler is executive director of Montgomery Soccer, Incorporated or MSI. And Larry Pierce is director of community services for Bowie, Md. And you can call us at 800-433-8850, send email to email@example.com.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Carrie in D.C. who says, "Can you please make the magic you work to allocate practice times transparent and consistent for organizations? Each year when permits are allocated to our baseball organization, we consistently scratch our heads about issues such as T-ball for kids aged 3 to 5 get time slots from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. Fields have been permitted during hours in which they are not open. Fields are double permitted and preference is given to soccer programs on baseball fields before baseball programs on baseball fields." How do you fight the perception that this is a competition between or among the different sports that want to use the fields and gyms.
NNAMDILacrosse versus soccer, soccer versus baseball, basketball versus volleyball. I'd like to hear all of you on this, starting with you, Jesus.
AGUIRRESure. You know, unfortunately, there is competition, and obviously the field space is finite and everybody wants to use it, and I think the caller is absolutely right, and we're working on trying to figure out how to make the process more transparent. I think on some level it's very difficult to, again, create an incredibly just purely scientific process that allows us to just give folks what they ask for.
AGUIRREAnother piece that we do that sometimes isn't transparent to some of the participants in these leagues is we'll give the permits out to the organization and not to the individual teams. So some of our larger leagues will say you have these blocks at these fields, then it's their responsibility to dole out the field space to their individual teams, and sometimes, you know, we don't get involved in that, and sometimes I think that creates some -- sort of an additional layer of sort of confusion on some level.
PIERCEIn Bowie, the biggest problem we have is a tendency of the user groups to over advertise their need. They will create a new program unbeknownst to the allocators and then wonder why there aren't 25 slots for them. We didn't change the program, we didn't change the number of fields. So what we do is we demand rosters. We demand the rosters for all the teams to make sure that they are meeting the resident threshold which has to be 60 percent at a minimum, because some of the groups of located in the city limits and they -- they're just a little outside.
PIERCEThe other problem we have is when the frustration level of these organizations gets high, certain members and coaches throw up their hands and then they create their own league, and they have this splinter effect. So the number of players that we have to deal with in organizational charts just gets larger and larger.
NNAMDIWell, the Bowie City Council is studying whether the city needs another gym, and if so, what kind. Talk about the economics of public facilities like gyms. Do you charge groups that use the space so that the space can be self supporting?
PIERCEWe do charge, but our philosophy has always been we don't want to be on the high end for costs, and we don't want to be on the low end. We want to be right in the middle. What that has translated into our gymnasium is we're only recouping about 30 to 35 percent of our cost to run that. At our ice arena, we're only recouping 70 percent. But that's a philosophy that the community has. That is going to change, I believe, with this new indoor facility where we're going to have to charge what the market is paying and what the groups are willing to pay, because there's just so much that you can do to subsidize that experience. So I think there will be a small shift in the general rates in the next coming year.
NNAMDIDoug Schuessler, this next email from Amy is from Virginia, but I'd like to hear your thoughts on it. Amy writes, "Is access to fields fair in Virginia? The fields are licensed to those who help pay the high cost of artificial turf, thereby giving them power over field access. In some cases it's a hundred percent. This means that parents and citizens who might not be able to pay for club access will not be able to play. My kids' fees are $1,800 a year for travel soccer. Is it that fair?"
SCHUESSLERIt's a great question. It really comes down to public policy. We have the same problem in Montgomery County where they have just a few artificial turf fields that have been built, primarily at high school stadiums, and you have a situation there where, you know, our school system that they are going to essentially create a bidding war, and it literally will be the highest -- the highest bidder will win. And what that does, of course, is it very much skews the use of those fields to the highest performing portion of the recreational segments.
SCHUESSLERSo you will see the premier-level travel players who parents are much more invested and passionate and whatnot, and they will say well, we're willing to pay more, and what that does is it closes out the vast majority of the population and it focuses those, you know, superior quality surfaces on a very small number of people.
NNAMDIWhich is precisely what Amy is complaining about. Here is Mark in Washington D.C. Mark, your turn. Hi, Mark.
MARKYes. I'd like to ask about the fields south of the Anacostia River, Kenilworth Park and Anacostia where I've heard differing views of whether D.C. controls them or the federal government. I'm a rugby referee and administrator, and we've sort of declared those fields unusable because they have been left in such bad condition. But there's enough space for quite a few fields there.
AGUIRREYes. Absolutely. It has the potential to have -- to be a beautiful space for fields and other outdoor activity. Unfortunately, it is controlled by the federal government as part of the National Park Service. We have a small portion of that, the space that he's referring to at Kenilworth where we have' recreation center and some other fields. We do permit those fields, but absolutely understand and agree that they're not in great shape at all, and our hope is, you know, in the coming future to work with NPS to try to figure out how to improve those.
NNAMDINPS being the National Park Service.
AGUIRREExcuse me, yes.
NNAMDID.C. Parks and Recreation is launching a master plan review next week that will look at where the city should spend money to improve its recreational facilities. What will the process be and what's the time line?
AGUIRRESure. Thank you. The process is literally just an incredibly comprehensive initiative to get out to our communities to understand what their interests and needs are, then we'll look at sort of the national best practices in our industry, and then look at our facilities, what we have and what we're missing. We're actually launching the public part of this process on May 11. We're going to have a big event showcasing some of the activity that we're doing at our recreation center.
AGUIRREAnd then literally we're going to go out into the communities and have focus groups. We'll do surveys. There will be a website to allow folks to participate that way, and really what we hope at the end of this process -- and our goal we're pushing the consultants to do this quickly. Our goal is to have the key deliverables done by the end of this calendar year in time for the next budget cycle to make sure that if we're going to make any investments that those are incorporated.
NNAMDIAnd we got a tweet from Kate who said, "What about the trend that seasonal sports are now played year round? Many kids are specializing too young." I guess a part of this is the push for better health among our youth, and the fact that for a lot of these sports that are played in other countries, they are in fact played year round, right, Doug?
SCHUESSLERThat's absolutely true. And, you know, there's times I think when all of us, you know, look back to our own childhood and we say, gosh, it was nice, you know, you'd play soccer in the fall, you'd play basketball in the winter, you'd play baseball in the spring or whatever. But regardless of our sort of fond memories, these days are gone. And I'm not saying that nobody does that anymore, but as a general rule all sports have kind of moved to a year round model, and for those individuals that choose to participate at a recreational level, I think that there's still an ability to do that.
SCHUESSLERYou see, you know, you'll see a deemphasizing for example in soccer during the winter, and that enables them to play basketball if that's what they choose to do. You see a lot of parents who say, well, you know, we're going to play soccer and baseball in the spring, or we're going to play soccer and something else in the fall. So you'll see that it's sort of replaced by dual sport participation rather than giving up that second sport.
NNAMDIHere is Joanne in Washington D.C. Joanne, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOANNEThank you. I'm an ex-soccer mom. My kids are now in their 30s, but Soccer on the Hill used to have an arrangement to play games at Fort McNair and Boeing Air Force Base, not practices, but games. And I'm wondering if we've investigated that kind of thing. There's a fair amount of -- I know you touched on the park service property, but there still is a fair amount of federal property. Is there a way to link in and use it?
NNAMDIUnused military space.
AGUIRRECertainly we can reach out to them. We haven't done that in the past. There is a field over in Ward 6 by the Marine barracks that we actually do use and permit out, but the two that you mentioned are not fields that we've used in the past.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Joanne. Doug, if you could do one thing to improve the availability of fields in Montgomery County, what would it be?
SCHUESSLERI think that the one thing that I would do is to take a look at our inventory of land that is not being utilized in the manner in which it was intended to be, generally speaking, underutilized, and to look at that and say can we repurpose it. That could be, you know, and as soon as you start throwing out specific examples, you start getting darts from the local community, but it could be, for example, Sligo Creek Golf Course, which is a tremendously underutilized facility and heavily subsidized property. And I'm not against golf, I enjoy playing golf myself, and frequently do at many of the courses in Montgomery County.
SCHUESSLERBut, you know, that's a very large property that I think so almost everybody within the Department of Parks and in most elected positions would agree probably we should be doing something different with that. But it's very difficult to overcome the local politics associated with any given site.
NNAMDIAnd when we're talking about local politics, we're not necessarily talking about disgruntled golfers, we're also talking about people in neighborhoods who are thinking about, well, there will be more traffic coming through here, more cars. We don't want to see that.
SCHUESSLERRight. And I think that, you know, that's where you get into, you know, a little bit of disingenuousness, you know, where the intended use of the property, if it in fact was successfully being used for that purpose, it would have all of that traffic, but because it has fallen out of favor, or simply, you know, if it's a school site that, you know, hasn't been developed yet, that traffic isn't there. So, you know, they face the reality that we like our quiet solitude, and we're going to fight to keep that, but we're going to be disingenuous in the way we fight to keep that.
SCHUESSLERWe're going to say that it's because we love our golf course, even though they don't use their golf course. And I don't mean to pick on the Sligo, you know, Creek community in any way, shape, or form, but that was a project that had a tremendous amount of promise for community gardens, for, you know, various youth programs that were proposed by the Parks Department as well as a variety of recreational fields, and, you know, it's not happening.
NNAMDIIan in Washington D.C. You're on the air, Ian. Go ahead, please.
IANYeah. Hi. I just wanted -- just furtherer to that, I really want to encourage the public/private partnerships that have come up, and the one example I'm thinking of is (word?) in Washington where Moray School needed field space, (word?) needed desperate repairs, and so Moray basically invested the money in approving the fields. They have access on it for school hours, bus it's accessible to recreation and club sports and everything on off-school hours, and that's a real win-win. And I think, you know, partnerships like that really have to be explored by all jurisdictions.
NNAMDIAnd I guess, Jesus Aguirre, those kinds of partnerships are important in terms of providing availability. What's the one thing you would like to see in D.C. to improve the availability of field and facilities?
AGUIRREI think, exploring -- sort of what we're doing now is just exploring all options, and I think for us it really is looking at -- and focusing on what the constituents -- how are constituencies are changing and what the needs are. I think, you know, earlier we talked about, you know, the ratio of diamond fields versus rectangular fields, really looking at making sure that we have the right mixture there because our communities are changing and their interests are changing.
AGUIRREYou know, there's a lot of additional competition we haven't talked about here, is, you know, just the folks who just want to be outdoors. So we've got boot camps and Zumba classes and all of these other folks who also want to be outdoors and exercising, and they want to be on these fields. So it really is making sure that we have a real diverse conversation around what we should be offering and what kinds of fields we should be creating.
NNAMDILarry, you started off my mentioning that you're looking at everything from archery to Zumba. What's Bowie's biggest recreation need from your point of view in that A to Z list?
PIERCEWell, I'd love to see the maintenance on the Board of Ed fields improved, and I would love to purchase a property that we're currently leasing from the school board for 30 acres with 10 fields, but I can't get irrigation or lights on it. But I think overall, we have a very receptive city government and city council mayor that are listening to the community. They're looking to master plan this. They recognize the need. That's half the battle. Getting the local government to understand that, to recognize it, and to respond to the community. And I think it's -- we're going to -- we're going to see that play out in the next fiscal year with planning for major new facilities in the coming year.
NNAMDICarlos in DuPont Circle in D.C., you get the last question or comment. You only have about 30 seconds, Carlos.
CARLOSI live in DuPont Circle, and I'm a young professional, and I and my friends, we want to stay in the city, but the only green space we have is at (word?) Park, and it's unsafe and not friendly. The mayor has agreed to renovate it, but not until 2015. So we'd like it to start this year. If it doesn't start soon, some of my friends may not be able to stay in the city with their kids. So thank you for your support.
NNAMDISure. That's an exciting project, and it's one of those public/private partnerships that we talked about on one level in that we have a very active friends of group and lots the community members who have invested a great deal already, and gotten some donations and gotten some design. I think the mayor is very supportive of the project, and we have included it our proposed budget that's now at council for review. And we're looking at creative ways to try to accelerate that implementation but we'll do what we can.
NNAMDIJesus Aguirre. He is director of the District of Columbia Department of Parks and Recreation. Larry Pierce is director of community services for Bowie, Md., and Doug Schuessler is executive director of Montgomery Soccer, Incorporated or MSI. Gentlemen, thank you all for joining us, and thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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