Mayor James Barberio expressed his frustrations with what he sees as inaction regarding the so-called Fields of Dreams high school turf field proposal at the Parsippany Town Council agenda meeting at Tuesday night.
The mayor read into the record the text of the Tuesday afternoon. Then he expanded upon his written statement.
Noting that "the township and the council put a lot of time into the project and took a lot of shots," Barberio said it is time for the board to make a decision as to whether it will enter a partnership with the town and give up 51 percent of field control and usage of the football fields at and high schools or not.
"If you have reservations or don't want to do the project, fine," he said. "We're doing what the state has asked us to do—to have a shared service agreement.
"I know where the town stands. I don't know where the Board of Education stands."
He said that if the board does not step up, the township will leave the refurbishment of the fields to the schools and "go forward with Plan B."
Though the mayor would not specify what Plan B is, he did say there were "other avenues" for creating field space for youth sports teams and residents.
"There are other areas in town where we can build other fields, like Smith Field," he said.
Councilman Michael dePierro voiced his own concerns regarding the controversial proposal, which has been hotly debated since December.
"Twice in your statement, you said the town would have 51 percent usage," the veteran councilman said. "I was under the impression that we would have 51 percent control, not usage. I have problems with that. Once we upgrade the fields, school activities should take precedence over town activities. There are going to be a lot more school programs that want to use the fields.
"We should not be interfering with school activities."
Barberio countered that the town must insist upon having a majority interest in the land, which means "we have to have usage; we must have availability. This is what we're trying to work out."
Business Administrator Jasmine said Recreation Superintendent Joe Plescia devised several scenarios of schedules dividing field time in a way in which schools would have field use "basically in the morning to 9 at night on school days."
"We were still able to come up with 51 percent usage" for the town, she said.
The mayor said some on the school board would prefer a lease agreement.
"I don't feel comfortable with anything but a conservation easement. I won't give up Open Space Trust Fund money for a lease," he said.
DePierro noted that he supports the mayor's efforts and the concept behind the turf project.
Resident Hank Heller said he believed Barberio was "inaccurate" in saying the school board had voted on the turf proposal.
Board President Frank Calabria has said several times the body has not made a decision.
The mayor insisted the board supported the plan unanimously behind closed doors.
"If Dr. Calabria is stating that, that is not true," Barberio said. "Perhaps he doesn't remember. We moved forward because we had a unanimous vote."
Calabria said just last week the . The school board president has also told Patch that .
Heller also contested the mayor's statement that the turf plan would mean no tax increase to citizens.
"While there might not be any current tax increase, when you're bonding for 15 years and the [turf field] lasts 8-10 years, when it's time to replace it, you have to take [money] from current income or tax the citizens more," he said. "While you might be correct that there won't be a current town increase, it's sure that in the future citizens will have to play additional monies."
Barberio said that of course there would need to be monies spent down the line.
"Any time you build a field you have to expect to maintain it. But it's a lot easier [and less expensive] to maintain a turf field than a grass field," he said.
The mayor used the example of the upgrades being made to the town's sewer treatment plant, which he said spent taxpayer dollars but will end up saving money in the long run.
As for a BOE-township partnership, the mayor did not sound positive.
"I think this is in limbo," he said.
Residents brought up other concerns regarding the plan known as the Fields of Dreams.
T.J. Ritter of , a nonprofit organization made up of three residents who question the turf project, told the board that a is underway.
The official complaint names Mayor Barberio, Council President Brian Stanton, Council Vice President Vincent Ferrara and BOE Sports Committee Chairman Sharif Shamsudin and accuses them of having conflicts of interest regarding the fields project.
Ritter suggested three options the town should take: postponing any action until the investigation is complete, having those facing charges recuse themselves from voting or "let 'em vote."
"Just know, [the state is] fully investigating you," Ritter warned.
He asked the council how it would proceed with the knowledge that Stanton and Ferrara are under investigation.
Attorney John Wyciskala, filling in for Town Attorney John Inglesino, refused to address the matter.
Resident Robert Simpson shared another concern regarding installing artificial turf at the high schools.
He mentioned a Brigham Young University study that focuses on what he called a downside of turf fields—temperature.
"They checked the temperatures of grass fields—78 degrees, concrete—94 degrees, asphalt—108 degrees, artificial turf—an average ranging from 117 degrees and a high of 156 degrees," he said.
Fields of Dreams Committee member Michael Pietrowicz scoffed at the report's findings.
"The Brigham Young study looks at fields in hot zones of the U.S.," he said. "We've used turf fields in Parsippany during the dog days of summer. We've had picnics with people running around with bare feet. There have been no temperature issues until October, when heat held in the turf attracts bees, but that's just New Jersey."
Pietrowicz, as he has done at several council meetings, praised the body for "publicly supporting" the proposal.
Councilman John Cesaro said he needs to "see an agreement first."
Barberio said he is looking to the next Board of Education meeting to see what comes next for the turf project.
"We'll see Thursday if the board and the town will be partners or not."