Parsippany voters, by a wide margin, rejected the Board of Education's $7.7 million fields referendum last week, but the issue is still alive.
At the school board's Jan. 24 meeting, two days after the special election, board members and residents talked about new ways to try and make some type of upgrades to sports facilities, including the football fields, at Parsippany and Parsippany High School.
Board President Susy Golderer, who already suggested an idea to solicit donations from area citizens and corporations to cover the cost of any improvements that might be made, restated that view. She added that she was particularly interested in hearing ideas from the public regarding creative ways to make fields of dreams a reality.
Resident Bob Venezia took to the microphone to summarize the situation.
"The referendum is over, the need for turf fields remains," he said.
Venezia reminded the board of a 2006 referendum voters rejected. The $85 million project, for capital improvements, was scaled back to $47 million after the defeat and went on to success, he said.
"I suggest we use the same strategy [for the fields]," Venezia said. "After you've completed the work on the budget, I ask that you consider the possibility of resubmitting a referendum to the voters that has been drastically reduced in size and cost."
He asked the board for a new referendum date coinciding with the already scheduled Nov. 5 town and school board elections.
"Any other timetable gives the impression that you're trying to manipulate the turnout," he said, adding that doing so would also save the taxpayers the cost of an additional election.
He also suggested eliminating all items from the improvements package except for artificial turf fields.
"While the board may consider lights, fences and tracks reasonable or even necessary, many voters regard them as either luxury items or items that should be funded out of the regular budget," Venezia said, adding that he believes the price tag of the referendum should not exceed $2 million.
"And offer to pay for any cost overruns out of your budget," he concluded.
Resident Monica Sclafani asked whether the board had given thought to working with township government to make an arrangement that would allow use of Jannarone Park for school teams' practices and games.
Superintendent LeRoy Seitz said that the facilities at Jannarone are not equipped to deal with the particular requirements of high school football, but that "it is something that we are looking at" and that discussions will take place with the mayor and the Township Council.
He also noted a downside that comes with using Jannarone Park—"the expense of busing the students."
Sclafani asked about the possibility of using Smith Field, and the superintendent replied that Smith might be usable as a practice field, but not for games.
Resident Tom Bluj, who is involved in youth sports leadership and noted his role in helping the school district with maintaining the Par Hills press box and other duties related with the school's athletic facilities, was the next commenter. After offering to volunteer his services to the district again, he had a request.
"I'd like a detailed schedule for aeration, topsoiling, seeding, fertilizing, application of herbicide and/or pesticide, irrigation and grass cutting of the Parsippany Hills football field in preparation for next season," Bluj said, adding that he also wanted to see the plan for sprinkler maintenance.
President Golderer asked Bluj for his list of required tasks so that she had a better idea of all that was required for field preparation.
Seitz thanked Bluj for his efforts and said the district would provide him with the information he sought. The superintendent recalled dealing with a past contractor "who just did a terrible job," and praised the quality of the work Bluj has done as a volunteer.
"I have requested that we add a question and answer page to the [district] website, so that any question brought before the board such as yours, it will be listed on the website and there will be answers there," said Golderer, "so that not only yourself gets the answers, but the rest of the public gets to see the same answers."
"I was glad that the referendum failed," said resident Hank Heller. "I don't think that was handled in the right way by the board, by the administration or by many of the proponents. On the other hand, there were many proponents who did an outstanding and honorable job and put their hearts and souls into it."
Heller offered his assistance with efforts "to find a way to make this thing work in the future in a way to be palatable to all parties, so we get value for our money while doing the best thing for Parsippany."
He then voiced a concern "of many residents" regarding indoor and outdoor facilities that "have not been maintained."
"We need to make sure these things are taken care of properly," he said.
Resident Roman Hoshowsky sought to view the dilemma facing the school board and pro-fields residents with positivity and humor.
"I'm the guy you don't want at your dinner party, but do want in your foxhole," he joked. "I was the one who, months ago, talked about fundraising, and it looks like that's the direction we may take.
"For those who are disappointed that the referendum failed ... look at this as an opportunity," he said, suggesting seeking donations and corporate partnerships as well as "getting on the state's case" to distribute aid dollars to school districts in a manner he sees as being more fair.
First, however, he said the town must become a united front to deal with the fields issue.
"We're fragmented now and at odds, but this is a great opportunity to pull everybody together to look for ways of raising funds," said Hoshowsky.
"I think we can turn this into a positive."