Local: Education

Leggett met with soccer group while pushing farm switchover

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Local,Maryland,Education,Lisa Gartner
Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett was meeting with a major local soccer group while he pushed the school system to lease the county land being used by an organic farm so it could be converted into ball fields -- years before outraged Potomac residents were given short notice of the move.

In a letter dated Nov. 10, 2009, Leggett recommended that the former Brickyard Middle School site be transformed into soccer fields, saying the 20-acre organic farm was "largely vacant and underutilized."

"As I am sure you are aware, the demand for playing time on ball fields is significantly greater than the available supply," Leggett wrote to the school board.

MSI Soccer, a nonprofit youth soccer organization, identified the former Brickyard Middle School site as a potential new spot for playing fields in March 2009, according to the MSI board of directors meeting

minutes.

By August 2009, MSI was "working with MCPS and the county to develop more soccer fields."

School board member Patricia O'Neill, who was then president, replied to Leggett on Dec. 23, 2009, noting that "We have scheduled a meeting between your staff and Montgomery County Public Schools' staff to understand all the issues involved."

In an interview, O'Neill confirmed that the idea to turn Brickyard into a ball field came from Leggett. "Our staff had never looked at it. Was it feasible, was it doable, was it going to be needed immediately for anything, and what the county executive was thinking -- that's why our staffs met," O'Neill said. "There was nothing nefarious about it; his staff was making the request."

MSI's minutes reflect that Leggett met with the group in February 2010 "to discuss possible field development opportunities in the county. Positive discussions were conducted and points of contact were provided to help MSI continue to pursue future development opportunities."

A spokesman for Leggett did not return calls seeking comment.

Potomac community members flooded a school board meeting about three months ago, criticizing the board for a "secretive" process that gave Montgomery residents no notice of the intent to turn the farm into soccer fields.

Maria Fusco, a Potomac resident, said she was "surprised to hear this news via neighborhood emails, rather than from you, our elected officials."

"I don't understand how this lack of communication could happen in the first place," Busco said.

Kristina Bostick, senior conservation associate with the Montgomery Countryside Alliance, said the county and school board's process was "most galling."

"...[T]hat we are finding out about this only now is a serious breach of trust and transparency," she said.

lgartner@washingtonexaminer.com

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