Athletic Fields Inspire School Board Brainstorming

BOE president asks citizens to serve on a committee to help make field improvements a reality.

Town residents gathered Thursday for a special session of the Parsippany Board of Education for a chance to brainstorm as a community to find ways in which to finance improvements to athletic facilities at Parsippany and Parsippany Hills high schools.

For this informal meeting, consisting primarily of public comment, residents came to a microphone to share their views.

Some called for better maintenance, some called for fundraising with corporations, some suggested corralling volunteers to take on some of the work. Still others reminded the board that playing fields at the elementary and middle schools need help as well.

Most thanked the board for the chance to talk and to be heard.

"This meeting is what we wanted, and I appreciate your asking us to come here and listening to our input," said resident Michael Espejo. "Now we have to look at what's safe vs. what everybody wants on their wish list."

Resident Bruce Bonin noted that in earlier debates, there was a divided community, but now, he sensed a change. 

"I think everybody is pretty much on the same side of this argument at this point," he said. "Everybody here has a passion for the town and wants the fields and tracks to be improved."

Resident Julia Peterson asked for "reasonable maintenance" of grass surfaces beyond the high school football fields.

"No matter how good a turf field is, everyone can't be on it at one time," she said.

Pat Petaccia, an advocate for watching how taxpayer dollars are spent, recommended asking the town's residents to volunteer. 

"We have people who can volunteer, cutting limbs down, whatever," she said. "There have been people who asked to volunteer and were told no due to liability. We're grown people. We can get a waiver of liability. 

"Let people help, if they want to."

Resident Rick Nogueira proposed creating a website for the effort. He described a site "where ideas can be shared in an open forum where people have to register."

Bruce Bonin mentioned his youthful experience of helping to construct Paradise Field and then getting to play on it.

"I think kids would be thrilled to be involved and have their parents involved in doing some of the [demolition work while leaving the actual construction to experts and professionals].

"Can't we do fund drives?" Bonin asked. "Can't we contact alumni? They have to be pretty darn affluent at this point in their lives. If they got a call from a kid [asking for donations] somebody might hit a jackpot. Some might hang up on you, but some might thing its the best thing ever."

He also suggested that sports parents who fall into the trap of buying new equipment that "isn't absolutely necessary" instead donate the money toward field improvement.

A general consensus was that the board should consider dealing first with the most urgent needs.

Resident Beth Bluj said that at this point, no one expects the full package of items proposed by the board and rejected by voters during the Jan. 22 fields referrendum.

"I'm not looking for miracles," said the longtime fields improvement advocate. "This year in the budget, you need to focus on the track at the High and the fields at the Hills. [It's important to] figure out a way to bring in topsoil, true seeding and have them taken care of it the way they should."

Fields of Dreams committee chair Michael Pietrowicz of Little Vikings Football sent extensive documents to the school board.

"I believe there is general recognition that something has to be done," he said, adding that the issue here is not about recreation leagues. "Little Viking Football has no interest in playing at the Hills. All of our stuff is at Jannarone. This is not about rec football, it's about the athletes at the school [in all sports]. There are no gym classes at these fields. And the community uses the tracks; this is a community asset. This is about improving things for everyone's use."

He suggested dealing with issues that he believes makes the fields unsafe.

"It's too monumental to take on all at once, we've tried it three or four times and got caught up in dreams and wishes and dollars," Pietrowicz said. "First thing: You have to create a capital replacement plan, perhaps a five-year plan based on risk and need and safety."

He suggested formulating a solid plan and taking it to wealthy individuals and corporations.

"I don't think you can go to a corporation and say we need money, but if you say here's our plan...," Pietrowicz said. "If they see the board and the people behind it, you'll probably have a more receptive corporate group or individual to help improve these fields."

Resident Valerie Workman agreed, saying she doesn't believe the board has done enough to attract corporate interest.

Workman described herself as a sports mom who "spends half my life on Parsippany fields" and the rest "in corporate America."

"Every Parsippany-based corporation made money," she said. "There's money there. How you [get their attention]: tax breaks, publicity, what the community is doing. What if you put together a team to reach out to every Parsippany CEO and say, 'Can you help?'

"It may not necessarily be money, it may be better pricing, any number of things," Workman continued. "But there's a lot of money on the table, and many would be available to help. ... Create a special [nonprofit] 501(c)3 specially for the purpose of raising money and people can donate to that."

Pietrowicz also suggested turning to the Morris County Improvement Authority, foundations and leveraging low interest rates, reiterating that a solid plan must be in place first.

Board member Anthony DeIntinis agreed, as did some of his colleagues.

"The money's there," he said. "We just have to do more to go after it and be willing to go, hat in hand, to ask for help."

Member Michael Strumolo suggested meeting with town officials and engineers to determine what can be done jointly and dealt with immediately. 

Superintendent of Schools LeRoy Seitz finished the night by giving attendees a reality check.

"Choices will have to be made," he said, reminding everyone that the budget, which has a state-mandated 2 percent cap, is stretched and finite—and even if money is found, priorities must be set.

"What's more important?" Seitz asked. "Do we put money into securing buildings? Do we need the money for maintaining class size or repairing fences? 

"What do you choose?"

Seitz went on to thank attendees for their energy and enthusiasm, which he said will go a long way toward achieving field improvements over the long term.

"I see so much energy in Mike Pietrowicz," Seitz said, offering an example. "We need to use him. We need to use the energy and skills of everyone. Just remember this is a long-term process."

Board President Susy Golderer echoed the superintendent's thanks and announced that an ad hoc committee will be formed consisting of board members and "six or seven members of the public." She said the committee could sift through the various ideas suggested and do any necessary legwork.

"There are so many ideas, that [improving the fields] is something we can actually do," she said.

"If the community comes together, this can really happen."

Golderer warned the audience that the job would require long hours and commitment.

"You're vital to making this happen," she said. "We can make it happen, but only if we [as a community] want to make it happen."

The president said she would like to have a committee in place by next week.

"Let's get this started," she continued. "This is Parsippany. Superintendents and teachers come and go. But we live here. This is our town. These are our schools and our children. We have to make the effort. It's important for us to take responsibility."

Anyone interested in volunteering to serve on the ad hoc committee is encouraged to call Joni Benos at 973-263-7200 as soon as possible.

Coach Workman February 22, 2013 at 01:07 PM
Great article! It's about being part of the solution.
William Paavola February 22, 2013 at 02:14 PM
I wonder what has been done to maintain the fields. It seems the problems surfaced when the town was no longer assisting. Let's start by getting the people responsible for taking care of the fields moving. If the fields need smoothing I saw a sign on 46 near Fairfield for FREE top soil. It is a great time to put down new dirt and let the grass grow.
Beth Bluj February 22, 2013 at 02:44 PM
William - that was actually one of the ideas presented last night. It was a productive meeting with great ideas coming from all sides. The board needs to stay focused and committed and not allow red tape to slow down the momentum that came out of last night's meeting. Also, as stated by Mrs. Golderer, the people offering to help need to stay just as focused and committed and be willing to give their time. Overall, I was pleased at what transpired and thank the BOE for holding that meeting. It was a nice format as well - lot's of open discussion by those in attendance in direct conjunction with the board members and each other. Very relaxed atmosphere where everyone felt comfortable and actually listened to each other.
Roman Hoshowsky February 22, 2013 at 04:18 PM
I think last night we got a glimpse of who the true leaders in this community are.
Julia Peterson February 22, 2013 at 04:28 PM
Great meeting, great format, lots of agreement. I especially like the idea of asking some of the "older" classes from the schools to contribute to a 501-3c. There are some fifty-year reunions coming up. Thanks to Ms. Golderer and the Board for a composed and accepting atmosphere in which there was genuine sharing of ideas and concerns.
Morgan1 February 22, 2013 at 04:33 PM
My guess is that type of top soil is filled with rocks and weeds.
Robert Simpson February 22, 2013 at 06:43 PM
They just don't get it
Scott Dean February 23, 2013 at 03:02 PM
I dont remember if this was brought up,but I really would love to see the Town brought back into the mix with a shared service for the maintenence of all our school fields.I think it is fair to say that they got much better attention when that was implemented. I also think it is fair to say that under current circumstances that the issues with the fields can be cared for better going forward by the people who's kids will probably be using them. So regarding bidding for the new contract maybe our fine town can put some #'s in to the BOE for consideration that are reasonable.
Beth Bluj February 23, 2013 at 04:41 PM
The contracts have already been awarded to the firms that took care of the fields last year. Tru Green for the chemicals and North Jersey Land Services for the cutting. North Jersey Land Services came in half way through the season after the other contractor was replaced due to negligence. If the BOE cannot expend the funds to put turf down this year, then they are going to have to find a way to get new grass or sod. The problem with grass is that it needs approx. 2-3 years of proper root growth to enable it to sustain the abuse of a football game. Sod, on the other hand, has a better chance of being ready for the '13 season, however, it will need to maintained very carefully i.e. proper watering, fertilizing and cutting. I think it should be considered as a viable option and I hope the board is seriously going to explore it for the short term because, if maintained properly, can last a few years if need be. Patchwork seeding and topsoil is not going to fix anything.
THERESA February 23, 2013 at 07:46 PM
Everyone involved is hopeful this project can be fulfilled. For those who may not fully support this, or for any potential "funders" who may contribute, we must focus on the main critical factors that are driving this project: SAFETY for ALL who participate in any activities on the fields/tracks to avoid injuries; Handicap Accessible Facilities (there are elderly and disabled people of all ages who should and must be able to attend functions/events (grandparents and relatives who want to attend graduation, games etc) & BATHROOMS that are close and accessible. It is embarrassing that our facilities lack such basic and human accomodations. While some have called this the field of dreams project which may be interpreted as a "wish list" , I would call it the field of "needs" project - something that is clearly needed and would benefit not only athletes but persons of all ages. I am hopeful with so much support and the energy of many, this will happen and happen soon.
Scott Dean February 23, 2013 at 07:56 PM
Theresa, you are so right and with so many involved in out in the open discussions it will be impossible for those in charge to drop the ball so to speak. Remember I heard somewhere that Parsippany is the # 1 place to live ! Let's be part of the solution to make that ring true. The pre fab bathrooms that have been donated around town to "parks" could be used asap.
Monica Sclafani February 24, 2013 at 02:02 AM
I think that corporate sponsorship is a great idea, but the district also needs to plan what kind of corporate sponsorship they're willing to accept. What will corporations be asking for in return? Do we want to name the fields after XYZ corporation? Do we allow them to put up signs to advertise their products? What kind of products can they advertise? For example, if a pharmaceutical company wants to advertise birth control products for their donation, is that appropriate? We don't allow our kids to have soda in school. Do we allow Coke or Pepsi to advertise? You get the idea. There should be a plan in place as to what the district is willing to do for a corporate donation. I would also like to know what happens if a company is willing to donate for the express purpose of the funds being used for one of the two high schools. Is it "both fields" or no donation? The answers to these questions should also be part of the solid plan to take to corporations, as Mike P. mentions in the article.
Scott Dean February 24, 2013 at 01:30 PM
Good morning Monica, I think it would be prudent to accept almost any offer with acception to someone that may want to advertise something that would be inappropriate.I believe that we are not in a position to dismiss any donation period,Common sense should be the plan that is implemented.If it comes to a decision of one school over the other it would just change the amount of money coming out of the budget to fix problems at both schools.
Beth Bluj February 24, 2013 at 03:01 PM
Monica - all valid points that can be addressed with simple common sense. For example: Coors Light signs at the field - no. Pepsi Cola signs - yes. If we are going to make the rules too stringent for a corporation to work with us - they are simply going to walk away. In regards to both schools. At this point any money collected should be going to the most hazardous conditions at either school.
Monica Sclafani February 24, 2013 at 06:24 PM
Hi Beth ~ I would hope that common sense would prevail. I was just suggesting that the Board should be clear, or at least discuss, what they would or would not accept in exchange for corporate sponsorship. This issue was raised a number of years ago in a related matter about private donations and the placement and size of signs noting the donation. There was quite the discussion about it! Would we re-name our fields? Pepsi Stadium... Home of the Vikings? The parameters should be stated up front about what is acceptable. I also mention donations for one or the other high school because about 10 (?) years ago, we had sponsorship to make improvements to the Hills field. It was refused, one of the reasons being that they couldn't do the same for the High. Is that still the case? I want to see the fields fixed as much as the next person. Why not have all our ducks in a row before going out for sponsorship or donations?
Analli Citall February 24, 2013 at 08:36 PM
Just curious if we are looking to fix ALL the athletic fields or just the football field? There were a few comments during the FOD presentation and again mentioned during the referendum talks that a girls soccer team came to one of the high schools looked at the field, turned around, got back on the bus and went home. I would say that if there is any field in that disastrous condition that would be the FIRST field fixed with any money. I never heard any stories like that about the football field at either school. What ever solution comes about at this point is not going to be one field that all students will use. We have to be prudent with what ever money comes in and spend it where it is needed most, not where there are the most boosters. If there is the most need in the field hockey field that is where the first efforts should go, if the second greatest need is the football field then there, maybe baseball next and soccer last. I have no idea which order is most pressing but we should all understand that this is about ALL students and ALL fields, not just the football field. Remember the turf is not happening with top soil and seeding. That is fixing a grass field. If we are fixing a grass field then we should fix the one with the most need.


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