The Fields of Dreams project has been the focus of much discussion and debate over the last few months, including at last week’s Open Space Committee and Board of Education meetings.
Under the proposal, the Board of Education would cede 51 percent of its control over the football fields at Parsippany’s two high schools to the township so that Open Space Trust Fund monies could be used to pay for improvements to the fields. The improvements would include the installation of new artificial turf fields, refurbishing track ovals, fencing and modernized lighting.
The plan envisioned thus far would use $4.5 million in bonds to pay for the project, and that money would be paid back from the trust fund over the next 15 years.
Patch invited two residents with differing views to present their perspectives on the topic.
Michael Pietrowicz, a Little Vikings football volunteer and the father of a Parsippany Hills High football player, says installing turf fields at the high schools will be beneficial to the kids and to the town.
For many years, people have been trying to modernize our high school fields. Our town is really, really fortunate to have some of the best recreational facilities in Northern Jersey but our high school fields are “sub-standard” and, therefore, used infrequently. We want to find a way to get them to meet the standards of other fields and make them safer so they also can be used for things like boys and girls’ soccer, girls’ field hockey, softball and baseball practices, band practices and band competitions. The tracks are sub-standard – we can’t host competitions – and need to be replaced over the next few years.
Plus, the fields cost a lot to maintain. They are an asset that is substandard. The town is looking to work with the board of education to use existing tax dollars. It’s not a new tax. The 2006 voter-approved referendum permits up to 40% of the funds to be used for renovation and construction of parks and recreational sites. This is a no-brainer.
There are shared services agreements throughout New Jersey. Those things need to be developed and negotiated. This is a way for the town and the board of education to work together to make improvements to the board of education’s assets. Will there be other people using the field when the schools are not? Yes, but that is not the goal of this. Rational people can come up with rational rules.
We have great facilities and a lot of demand. The driving force is that Parsippany is the largest town in Morris County. Every town in the county has the “standard” of play–we don’t.
No one discounts people’s concerns. There is a huge enthusiastic group of people who support this. For those people who have quality of life concerns, I respect those.
There’s a lot of good to be done. Not a lot of bad things can happen. It will actually save money for the schools in maintenance costs and not having to bus kids to other locations.
The polls support it. The voters supported it. I can’t wait for the day we cut the ribbon.
Julia Peterson of the Parsippany Historic Preservation Advisory Committee says turf fields are not an appropriate use of open space funds.
“Open space” suggests an area which allows a wide range of activities, from sitting and watching, to unstructured, active play: a public place of respite from traffic and noise. As our town urbanizes, public open spaces disappear but they become more important for all citizens.
This is why I am so concerned about a decision to use open space trust fund monies to construct artificial turf fields at the two high schools. The debate may seem like it is just beginning, but it has been conducted over the last year between the various sports clubs, the Recreation Advisory Committee and the Mayor’s office. There are really two questions: First, is this an appropriate way to use our Open Space Trust Fund? Second: Are artificial turf fields a wise educational investment for our high school athletic fields? And the debate about these two questions deserves to be a public debate.
In Parsippany, between 63 and 65 cents of every tax dollar already go to the school district. We devote two cents of every dollar to the Open Space Trust Fund. That decision was made in 1989, when voters established the first open space fund in Morris County. In 2006, a referendum allows a portion of the fund to be used for park maintenance and historic preservation purposes. Decisions about the use of Open Space funding are made by a committee of four citizens and three representatives of the town government. They make recommendations about which properties should be placed on the Reserve Open Space Inventory list and considered for purchase.
Once a property is placed on the ROSI, negotiations can begin for its purchase. Generally, open space land remains minimally developed, so it can remain a “green space” promoting conservation and connections to the natural environment.
It is difficult to understand how an artificial turf field promotes any connections to the natural world. Once developed, land cannot be returned to its natural state. In the case of an artificial turf field, this is enhanced by the shredded tire rubber underlayment, which leaches pollutants into the groundwater and, when the field needs to be replaced (in 10-15 years) must be disposed of in a special landfill, at costs presently of around $200,000.
The term “trust fund” implies a legacy. You may remember a time where there was much more open space available. It was informal open space: a field or woods where kids could play, or you could walk your dog, and no one minded. These spaces are mostly gone, and we miss them. Open space funds will be crucial in preserving the few undeveloped areas we still have in town. Let’s think carefully before we use them to make more artificial turf fields (there are already three in town.) And if we need to improve the high school tracks and fields, let’s figure out a way to pay for them that doesn’t compromise the legacy of open space and historic preservation in Parsippany-Troy Hills.