Local: Education

MontCo residents to take legal action against county over soccer fields

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Local,Maryland,Education,Lisa Gartner
A Potomac community is taking the first step toward suing over Montgomery County's plans to turn an organic farm into soccer fields.

Residents of River Falls have joined with the county's Citizens Association and other activists to file official notice on Tuesday "to preserve a claim for monetary damages," according to a flier circulated by the coalition. The notice is a formal way to alert a party that a lawsuit could hit them if the matter isn't resolved.

Ted Duncan and Keith Williams, heads of the Civic Association of River Falls, said in a memo to residents that they tried to avoid taking legal action.

"Conversations with executives from the soccer leagues, meetings with the county executive, correspondences with council members, state representatives and any others who might be able to help us either fell on deaf ears or those who chose not to listen," they said.

The county's school board voted in March -- with barely any notice to residents -- to lease the former Brickyard Middle School site to the county at County Executive Ike Leggett's behest.

The Washington Examiner first reported that Leggett was meeting with major local soccer group MSI Soccer while he pushed the school system to lease the land -- years before Potomac residents were given just several days' notice of the switchover.

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."

Many areas of the county's public school system are overflowing, and school officials are expecting another 10,000 students in the next six years, bringing enrollment in Maryland's largest school district to about 154,000.

Duncan and Williams stressed that they are not advocating any one use of the 20-acre parcel; rather, their desire is to open the process to the public.

In two separate rulings, Maryland's Open Meetings Compliance Board found that Montgomery school officials broke open-meeting laws when deciding to lease the land.

Since March, many Potomac residents have told the school board they do not want soccer fields in their community.

"Few who are here will use this facility, so you will drive tons of kids in and tons of kids out," Krista Kurth said. "Who is this for? It is not for us."

lgartner@washingtonexaminer.com

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