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Turf Fields Options Considered By Officials, Residents

BOE eyes alternative ways for improvements after referendum rejection.

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."

David Comora January 28, 2013 at 12:11 PM
Sounds like some good ideas are coming out of this...Perhaps we repair lengths of fencing with donation plaques that appear on the fences (both private and corporate)...like the highway adoption program.
Beth Bluj January 28, 2013 at 01:02 PM
When at one of the meetings, I believe I heard that if any upgrades are done to the fields, the BOE will be required to make the fields ADA compliant (as they should have done years ago anyway). So, it may not be as easy as just putting down some turf. If I am wrong, someone please correct me. Also, in regards to corporate donations, as someone who ran Tricky Trays in the past, the PTA could not even get so much as a pencil from any of our large corporations in town - so I am not holding out too much hope that our corporations are going to be so willing to help spend millions. @Dave - I like that idea and I would suspect that our 'mom and pop' businesses may help out. Just all remember - we have TWO high schools - so it's twice the amount for any business.
Tushar R January 28, 2013 at 01:18 PM
It's really nice to see some alternatives being explored. With regards to corporations not donating to Tricky Trays: maybe it won't be so difficult to get corporate support for something like a field improvement where there can be a lasting presence and a recurring advertisement opportunity via visible signs, etc.
Robyn M. January 28, 2013 at 01:24 PM
Donations - strange. My mom is involved in a local charity group and was able to get a plethora of donations for baskets, as well as sponsorships for certain events they held. I worked on fundraising for several local groups and got money, as well as in-kind trade agreements (goods in exchange for signage/publicity). In terms of ADA compliance - when the town redid some of the sidewalks, only the new areas had to be ADA compliant, which is one of the primary reasons they look insane in certain areas and vary in width. Or, at least this is what I was told.
Beth Bluj January 28, 2013 at 02:07 PM
I got donations - lots - but not from our corporations in town. And we are talking about tens of dollars, not hundreds of thousands of dollars - no comparison. If they choose to go that route - I wish them luck. I don't see it happening at any grand level. ADA - regardless of what they do with the fields, this BOE should be very compelled to get these fields ADA compliant - their disregard for this for so many years is truly a shame.
Scott Dean January 28, 2013 at 07:00 PM
Wow, with every new picture that surfaces of these conditions of the fields I get more and more upset! Please someone with a real name or not explain how this #1 town of Parsippany has been duped for so long.We should be demanding answers NOW! as to how and why this embarrasment could happen ? I appreciate the fact that we are supposed to move forward past the blame game but Really?? this is almost laughable that this affluent town in Morris County looks worse than the sandlots in inner cities!
Natalie Davis (Editor) January 28, 2013 at 07:08 PM
No, Beth, you are correct about that, and it may have to come out of the budget.
Robyn M. January 28, 2013 at 07:13 PM
You're absolutely right that the pictures and (in person viewing) of the facilities is appalling! And, don't feel you have to say we need to get past this. The only way to move forward is to learn from our mistakes, which means figuring out specifically WHO was responsible for repairing these things & let it all slide. It's a huge waste of the taxpayers' money. If regular maintenance had been performed, we would not be looking at a picture of a fence that looks like this. We should have handy maintenance people ON STAFF who diligently and proactively manage property.
Scott Dean January 28, 2013 at 07:54 PM
It just goes to show that the people have been lulled to sleep again. If people are not willing to yell about a problem then the status quo is acceptable. How do we find out the amount of monies that were earmarked for this maintenence and the actual amount that was spent?
Hank Heller January 28, 2013 at 08:11 PM
The person responsible for the sad lack of attention to our fields and the sad lack of attention to our school facilities is Superintendent Dr. Seitz. At the last BOE meeting, I noted during the Public portion of the meeting that I was amazed that the person whose job it is to care for the indoor and outdoor facilities and maintenance of the Parsippany School System was noted in the Secretaries Notes as being given additional responsibilities (if I understood the report properly). No one in this school administration has ever acknowledged responsibility for the filthy showers and decrepid fields, fences and bleachers. With this in mind, how can we ever expect this administration to care for new fields and facilities any better than they have cared for the old? The money that has been budgeted for maintenance has obviously been applied elsewhere, OR the money was just spent foolishly and the work never done. How else do your fences get overgrown, mangled and allowed to rust away? It is clear that we do not know how to maintain things and no one in the management chain (including Principals, Athletic Directors and Superintendents) seem to take ownership of anything. Very sad! And, this is not a "blame game". This is a plea for some responsible executive to take responsibility, so we can believe it can get better. And, if our current administration can not or will not take responsibility, let us get an administration that can!
Robyn M. January 28, 2013 at 08:53 PM
Exactly! Scott - this is where you are going to find common ground among a lot of people who voted "yes" and many who voted "no." When you are part of a workplace and you notice a trip hazard, you report it. When you are a member of the public who attends an event and sees an unsafe situation, you report it. How many reports were made by concerned parents along the way? To whom? We need to bottom this out, and find someone who was responsible at an executive level for ensuring those underneath him did their jobs and performed repairs. That person needs to be let go, and a person with a record of getting things done put in place. It is not OK to put our town's kids in harms way. Then, we need to look at the budget and see how much money is allocated to basic repairs and figure out where it has been going. Finally, we can get a thorough assessment of how to fix the problem from several points of view (several turf companies, multiple turf options and multiple natural/grass options, including a potential mix of professional and internal help - we hire people already to maintain things - what are they doing????). Financing should include some money that is already in the budget, not 100% extra money. Once we have options, we can determine what is most cost effective, practical and good for students. This is the type of respectful conversation that is productive for us to be having (not "yes" people against "no" people).
Patrick Merrill January 28, 2013 at 11:27 PM
Eh, those fences are far removed from any playing surface. As an ex-varsity athlete only 2 years removed our town shouldn't be spending money on the fields. Spend the money fixing our teacher's contracts.
Bob Crawford January 29, 2013 at 03:03 AM
The BOE owns responsibility. Each year the BOE has the responsibility to assess the Superintendent's performance as it is his job to make sure the District's operations are managed properly and it is the BOE's responsibility to ensure that he is doing his job. The perforrmance appraisal process is the opportunity for the BOE to commend the Superintendent for what he has done well and the opportunity for the BOE to direct the Superintendent as to where needs to improve. It is clear that the BOE has failed over the past number of years to do anything but turn a blind eye to the Superintendent's failures. Why?
David Comora January 29, 2013 at 03:32 AM
Bob, with all due respect, these issues have been around a long time, including the time that you were a Board of Ed member...so I would turn the question to you. Why?
friend of parsppany January 29, 2013 at 04:20 AM
Can anyone share what the strengths of the super are? He gets paid a kings ransom but it seems that the district lacks leadership. The district has a big perception problem especially defending his salary and nickel and dimeing the professionals that work with the kids. The district is at a crossroads and it is trending down unfortunately.
Beth Bluj January 29, 2013 at 01:20 PM
Really? Are you still going to continue to do this? Come on now, you and I both know that these fields were an issue long, long, LONG before Dr. Setiz came to the district. We are all at fault. The BOE's of past and present for not maintaining these fields, in particular those that sat on the Grounds and Maintenance Committees, and to all the residents that allowed it to happen in the first place. Still talking - still nothing being done.
Nicholas Robert Homyak January 29, 2013 at 01:29 PM
Sick of the sports priorities in education and asking tax-payers to sponsor contractors to do what the community should be doing? for example the photo of the fence deteriorated; do you mean to say that fence could not have been repaired by municipal or county employees? Build, maintain, defend. Sports and their accommodations are an extra luxury especially when it comes to elements like artificial turf. Look at most playing fields anywhere you'll witness organized teams and their constitutes consuming their refreshments fussing over a game, rather than real life and they walk off the field and leave their litter or at least leave it for the town to empty the trash can when they get around to it. Save the money for better education; better schools, not sports craze!
David Comora January 29, 2013 at 02:03 PM
I think everyone questions the amount of money supers are paid, especially given the current economic climate where many of us are scrambling to make ends meet. Not everyone in Parsippany is unhappy with the school district. I do believe the super did a good job navigating through the initial $6 million cut in state aid that our town suffered after Christie took office. He managed to maintain courtesy busing and keep full day kindergarten, which many believed would lost. I think his effectiveness has been overshadowed by the salary dispute and by the past and current board members who either desire(d) to use the board as a springboard for their political careers or as a weapon of revenge. Its a shame that there are only a few board members left that seem to have the students interests at heart.
TONY FASANO January 30, 2013 at 12:20 AM
BETH IF YOU NEED I CAN CONTEST TO FIELD CONDITIONS BACK TO MANY YEARS SO CAN TERRI C. AND ANG CAP . I WAS THE NUT THAT RAN NIGHT GAMES TO BAD BROOKLAWN HELD UP THE TOWN MONEY THANKS TONYFASANO

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