Prince William County should spend the bulk of the money saved last year improving county and school sports fields, Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey A. Stewart said last week.

Stewart (R-At Large) plans to present a proposal to the supervisors Tuesday for $3.1 million to be used for sports field upgrades. The money would come from the $4.2 million not spent in the past fiscal year, known as “carry over” savings.

The proposal is Stewart’s latest attempt to address the county’s field space shortage for its booming youth league population, an issue he said the county has neglected during recession-related cutbacks.

His proposal would:

→Upgrade fields at Gainesville and Saunders middle schools. Saunders would serve a large population because it is in the middle of the county, and Gainesville is in the fast-growing western end, Stewart said. The grass fields would be replaced by artificial turf, and lights would be installed at a cost of
$1 million for each field.

→Add lights at Veterans and Fuller Heights parks at a total cost of $500,000.

→Light two rectangular fields and a baseball field at James S. Long Park for $600,000.

Upgrades to the school fields would be contingent on an agreement with the school system that county sports leagues would have access to them, Stewart said. The leagues have said that school officials have often made it difficult for them to use the fields.

“We have really neglected the parks, and it has become very apparent,” Stewart said. He said that although it is not the county’s top priority, it’s a good use for the surplus because it’s a one-time expense.

At a county forum last month, sports leagues decried the condition of county playing fields and said the county needs to invest in maintenance and additional fields.

Supervisors and other leaders have been particularly concerned about class sizes in Prince William schools — on average, the largest in Virginia. “I’m sure that somebody is going to say, why don’t we give it to the schools to reduce class size, or this, that or the other thing,” Stewart said. “We cannot allocate one-time funds, surplus funds, for ongoing expenses. To reduce class size, you need ongoing revenue.”

Supervisor Peter K. Candland (R-Gainesville) said the board has used that argument as an excuse not to address its more critical problems.

“We’ve used that board policy as a shield,” Candland said. “It’s no wonder we have the highest classroom sizes in Virginia, that our fire response times are drastically below where they need to be. It’s no wonder our police and fire staffing plans are under what they need to be.”

He said the county should address the sports fields’ systemic issues — dealing with scheduling problems and implementing a user fee to pay for upgrades, for example.

Stewart’s plan “really just throws money at the problem. It doesn't get into the needed reforms that need to be implemented here in Prince William County,” Candland said.

Candland said he would put forward his own plan Tuesday for the carry-over funds. He declined to offer specifics.

Stewart said that his proposal is just a start. The county should also use unspent funds from its 2006 park bond referendum to address sports-field needs. Stewart also said he plans to start a process that would lead to a bond referendum for park and field upgrades.