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Superintendent Makes Case for Keeping Fields Options Open

School board meets for the second time this week to discuss how to proceed with high school athletic upgrades.

The fate of the most recent attempt to improve the athletic facilities at Parsippany and Parsippany Hills high schools will be decided by the Parsippany Board of Education Thursday night.

The school board is considering whether it wants to move forward with an effort to put the matter of funding improvements on a referendum that would take place in February 2013. 

In Thursday's meeting, in order to meet a DOE deadline, the board members must decide two major issues:

  1. Will it send a plan for upgrading, among other things, the schools' football fields, to the Department of Education for review (a preliminary step in the quest for a referendum)?
  2. What improvement options will be on the list sent to the DOE?

Superintendent of Schools LeRoy Seitz told Patch that as of right now, there is no plan, merely choices.

"What we have presented is a list of options," he said. "The board will have to make a decision of what items it will send for review by the DOE."

Seitz said the formal fields plan won't be set until November. Even if the board approved sending to the DOE every item on the options list, which has a collective value of $11.5 million, the plan could be amended.

"You can take things away after you've submitted a preliminary plan to the DOE, but you cannot add anything," the superintendent said. "If you only want to have X, Y and Z, all you have to do is notify them. They already have the specs for the review.

"It wouldn't be an issue."

The school board has the option of sending the entire list, any combination of the items--one example would be "turf fields, drainage, 6-lane track, bleachers"   --or none at all.

The Thursday meeting--the second BOE fields-related gathering this week--takes place at 7 p.m. at the administrative building, 292 Parsippany Road. 

Michael Pietrowicz, chair of the township's Fields of Dreams subcommittee, is beating the drum to get pro-FOD people to the school board meeting.

The following comes from an email he sent out far and wide Wednesday:

We are all aware of the terrible and embarrassing field conditions at our high schools. ... We are all probably tired of the long drawn out process, biased media coverage and small but vocal opposition. Please don’t get complacent or exhausted. Our kids now and in the future need our help. I hope as many people as possible can attend the BoE meeting tomorrow night. ... They need to hear our voices.

Pietrowicz is seen by many in Parsippany as the architect of the Fields of Dreams plan, which was backed by Mayor James Barberio. 

That plan, for an estimated $4.5 million, would have included turf fields for each high school, track refurbishments, modernized lighting and new fencing. The condition for this proposal was that the Board of Education would have to give up its control of the football fields, etc., in perpetuity.

That proved a breaking point for the board, which promptly rejected the Fields of Dreams and said it would find its own solution.

William Paavola August 23, 2012 at 12:24 PM
Forget the plan to use artificial turf. It is not cost effective or ecologically sound. Although it will look nice at first it will require replacement before it is paid for. Our money would be better spent on maintenance of the existing grass field and upgrading the accessory structures. They are what is really sad about the facility. However the administration is losing the focus of the educational system. It is to educate!!! That internal email was nothing but propaganda for a failing proposition. A drowning man grabbing at others to take them down also. GET BACK TO EDUCATING OUR CHILDREN!!!!
Harland August 23, 2012 at 12:54 PM
I wish the BOE and Michael Pietrowicz put this much effort and passion into ensuring that the quality of our children's EDUCATION was as good as it could be. Too bad that his effort is focused on sports which benefit a small percentage of the students.
Maurice Saunders August 23, 2012 at 01:16 PM
William and Harland...enough already about the focus should only be on education. Our school system is about education and sports. Sports allows for our kids to grow socially, build leadership skills, face adversity in a control environment and potential provide the means to attend college. Our school system should allow the ability to focus on education as well as sports. Do you know how many kids in this town have benefited from high school sports?
Michael August 23, 2012 at 02:10 PM
We learned at Tuesday's meeting from the architects working on the project that new real grass fields could be installed for $250,000 per field. This includes removing the current fields, bringing in proper soil.... creating a quality, sustainable field. This is significantly less than the 1.5 and 1.6million per turf field for their current plan. We also learned that in 10 years the projected cost to re-turf the fields will be over $400,000 per field - which means that with the current plan for turf we are looking at $3,1000,000 now and $800,000-900,000 in 10 years (per both Seitz and the architects.) This means that if they go forward with this, the BOE better start saving $90,000 per year for the sole purpose of re-turfing... or they will hit us up with another referendum 10 years from now for this need. I think $500,000 for 2 grass fields sounds like a much better idea.
Par70 August 23, 2012 at 02:29 PM
Seriously -- complete redo of fields with real grass at 250k per field? Why not pursue this? At current costs -- they could redo the fields on a regular basis and still have huge cost savings. Is artificial turf -- with the requirements of water cannon and other issues really worth it? Is the purpose here to fix the situation?
Michael August 23, 2012 at 02:49 PM
Par70 - Yes, seriously - $250,000 per field, done properly. It gets better. At the meeting when Fran Orthwein asked about the costs, the architects said it is VERY VERY Expensive for grass - and then said $250,000 which is just a fraction of the cost of what the architects are pushing for. Turf = more cash in the pockets of the architects if they are paid as a percentage of the gross cost of the project which is how they normally work.
Par70 August 23, 2012 at 02:55 PM
Sorry to be skeptical - but there has to be more to it.
Bob Crawford August 23, 2012 at 04:20 PM
The "more to it" is the fact that natural turf is less durable then artificial turf so more games can be played and events held on the artificial turf. Today's reality is that the two grass high school fields are used sparingly as a quality control methodology. Assuming that the safety issues have been fully and independently vetted by the BOE, transitioning to artificial turf fields will provide much greater access to many more student athletes. (albeit at a much higher cost) As it stands today, it is be safe to say that the BOE, at this evening's meeting, will approve the proposal to transition to artificial turf. But what is unknown is how much beyond improving the fields, tracks, lights and fences the BOE will go and therein lies the BOE's quandry Does the BOE move forward with one price tag which is in the $4.8 million range or the other price tag which is in the$11.5 million range? If it chooses the $11.5 million price tag does the BOE runs the risk of a defeated referendum and losing it all. If it chooses the $4.8 million price tag does the BOE stands a chance of providing students with upgraded atheletic facilities? Which way will the Board go? Unfortunately, the Superintendent continues to duck the issue by suggesting that the Board propose a number to the Department of Education that it can walk away from should the sledding get rough. Hopefully the BOE will have the guts to make a decision for the right reasons and then stand by that decision.
Par70 August 23, 2012 at 04:39 PM
In theory -- we could build two grass fields at each school. One for general play and the a main one for official games. By doing this wouldn't that still come in much cheaper than what is being proposed with the turf. I just find it so hard to believe that getting the turn is essential. As children we were able to get by with non-turf fields and succeed. There are many places without the turf that are doing fine as well. In addition, these costs seem astronomically high -- how is it possible that other schools across America can fund it. Personally - I believe that it is typical Jersey at play with too many hands in the pot causing the cost to be out of touch with reality..
Beth Bluj August 23, 2012 at 04:58 PM
What was also said about the grass fields is that if they went that option the fields would be unusable for at least 1 year because the new grass needs to root. What was also stated is that it would not be feasible to think that these fields could be used by all sports all the time and in all weather conditions. So, essentially, you are spending $250,000 x 2 = $500,000 for possibly 8 home football games per year, no practice use, no multi-use. I don't see the cost savings. In regards to resurfacing the fields in 10 years at the cost of $400,000 each - I am not quite sure how accurate that is. Remember, the infrastructure is already there; all you need is the carpet.
Michael August 23, 2012 at 05:06 PM
The Architect's and Seitz both said the cost would be over $400,00 per field resurface. You have to remove the rubber (petroleum based product) dispose of it through proper means, refill with a new rubber composite and then re-carpert. The price of oil shows no signs of being lower 10 years from now. If the grass field is properly maintained, soccer and field hockey games could also be played on it - but it would not be used 24/7 and the soccer clubs would probably not have use of it on weekends (which should not be an issue).
Par70 August 23, 2012 at 05:13 PM
Very good points Beth. Still in its current form -- I don't think we are going to get buy-in from the town and the referendum will fail to pass. The number he is quoting is excessive to the point of being ridiculous. Then again -- I thought the 4.5 million seemed looney as well. Regardless -- this may all be a ploy as it seems to follow the normal play-book followed by Seitz in the past. My guess is that this astronomical amount is to shock everyone and then the original 4.5 million doesn't seem as bad. If that of course doesn't work it will be followed up by Seitz's normal -- if it fails to pass bunk -- that programs, curriculum and teachers will be directly impacted due to less funds/funds being diverted to the turf initiative.
steve revette August 23, 2012 at 05:14 PM
A lot of other schools didn't do it during a recession. To be honest as much as I want this to pass. I don't see it passing. People were against it when it was only like 2 and a half million now it's up to 11 million. Fact is I have a feeling that a majority of people are tired of another tax. Also like I have said in earlier forms. What about the other kids for the other sports? Has anybody ever been to the Brooklawn softball field? The JV baseball field? In fact that's why Brooklawn played some of their home games at Park Road.
Dorothee Burchartz August 23, 2012 at 05:58 PM
My vote would be for new grass fields, ADA compliance, and fences/lights as necessary. They don’t need turf that is going to need replacing before it’s even paid for. Neither do they need to host state track meets (the reason given for the track expansion). I agree that athletics is an important component of school, and does benefit many students, but this $11.5 million plan, or even the $4.5 million plan, is out of proportion both with the priority and with the percentage of students benefitting. With regard to allowing more usage – my guess would be that while this is a good marketing point for now, once the fields are in, we would hear, “These fields cost a lot of money and we have to make them last as long as possible, so we can’t overuse them.” While this would be true and prudent, let’s be honest about this up front. And the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) that Mr. Seitz has been spreading, about needing to cut teachers in the future if we don’t do all this now because of the budget cap, just serves to emphasize the need for a hard look at priorities. He should leave the FUD to the politicians, and present some reasonable, fact-based options more befitting a highly paid Superintendent of Schools. . One other thought that comes to mind is the fact that the turf field at Veteran’s Memorial Park floated away during Irene a year ago, making that venue unusable for the entire soccer season. What if something bad happened to a HS turf field?
Beth Bluj August 23, 2012 at 07:16 PM
But as said at the meeting, every town in our division has turf (except Sparta) and playing games on turf is totally different than playing on grass; especially field hockey. It puts our athletes at a disadvantage. No matter how much someone wants to say that we need to focus on 'academics', athletics (as well as clubs) are an integral part of a school system and molding the well-rounded college applicant. Right now our kids are competitive academically and get into some of the top schools because a lot of $$ goes towards things such as honors classes, GRO programs, free SAT classes, beautiful computer labs, new science labs at our high schools, guidance counselors at each grade to help in the college process, and an entire software package geared toward getting ready for college. Is it so wrong to want to include some nice fields to help our athletes stay competitive as well? That's all we want: modern, well-maintained fields to complete the package. Unfortunately that is going to cost some money, but it will be money well spent. Not $11.5 million, but certainly enough to do what we have been asking for all along: turf, fences, tracks and lights. I know the lights are still a hot topic to those in the surrounding areas and I get it. But as I have always said, if the lighting is approached with open minds and compromises from both sides, it can work. It does in other towns. I also agree that these fields should be used for HS teams only.
Par70 August 23, 2012 at 07:29 PM
Beth -- don't think that I am stating it is wrong to put money/continue putting money towards the athletic program. Even so unless there are changes this referendum will fail. Please note that I just saw an article that there is discussion of building an entire new school in Jersey City for 50 million (which seems ridiculous), but we are stating that we should spend 11.5 million on Turf. Doesn't that even sound worse? They need to get the numbers into line (i.e. same or better than FOD) before I think anyone in Parsippany will sign off.
VietNam Vet August 26, 2012 at 05:27 AM
Bill, I so agree with you! If they put as much effort into teaching the kids as they do this stupid plan, the kids might be a little more prepared for the real world, but with seitz all they can think about is spending more money than what they have or what is coming in.
VietNam Vet August 26, 2012 at 05:29 AM
Bob, if they used the right grass seed mixture, they wouldn't have that problem. There are mixtures of seeds that will stand up to alot of abuse.

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