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Letter: Is the Board of Education Bored of Education?

"There has never been a better time than now, to ask the Westfield Board of Education, are you bored of education?" says Westfield resident.

On May 1, 2012, the BOE made mention of their desire to have a Lit Turf Field installed at Westfield High School, replacing the existing natural grass field. On May 15th, they voted unanimously in favor without informing taxpayers on the issue. Please keep in mind Westfield already has turf fields - Kehler, Houlihan and Sid Fey (the latter are lit).

Even harder to swallow, than a hushed unanimous vote to spend $3.3M on a lit turf field, the BOE then voted to bundle the lit turf field bond, a luxury, with a bond for much-needed roof repairs on our schools, which is a clear necessity for the safety of our children and the school staff. Thus, taking away our freedom to choose how our tax dollars are spent, and hiding a luxury behind a necessity.

An article in the August 24, 2012 issue of New Jersey Monthly titled, “The Top New Jersey High Schools”– showed that Westfield High School ranked #49 in 2012. We were # 41 in 2010. We took an 8-point dip in two years.  Additionally, a friend moved to Westfield in 1999, and said that at the time, Westfield High School was ranked in the top 10 High Schools in the state. We are now looking at #49. What happened?  

Rather than spending taxpayer dollars to replace a perfectly fine grass field with lit turf, it would seem more prudent to spend the money on academics (technology), etc. so we can begin taking steps toward getting our school ranking back up.

There are many other things that the BOE could spend taxpayer dollars on to improve what goes on inside the school for the students and faculty, rather than an unnecessary lit turf field. No matter what school your child goes to, I’m certain that if you took a few minutes to think about it, you could come up with 3-5 ways to improve our schools using the $3.3M the BOE proposes to spend on the installation of the lit turf field.

Some things we thought about: Constructing new classrooms for the schools that are experiencing growth in student population. Hire more teachers to reduce classroom size. Improve technology used in the schools. Update the very seriously outdated (Edison excluded) and “gross” (quote from an elementary school student) bathrooms that our children have no other choice but to use. Add some sort of air-cooling system so the students and teachers are not subjected to the extreme heat in the spring/summer, while trying to concentrate and learn.  Provide schools with their own librarians, art teachers and music teachers.  Remove the activity fee that was instated last year for arts, music and sports, which we parents are burdened with above and beyond our taxes. While not all are “capital projects,” this list could go on.

The elementary schools are having bake sales and numerous fundraisers every year to raise money to buy/install things such as SmartBoards in the classrooms, just so we can get our children beyond chalk & board and keep them slightly relevant with technology. 

Something to think about, and we fully understand that the Westfield Fire Department is drawn from a different fund - the WFD’s entire budget is $3.5M, (and there’s a freeze on raises and hiring staff). The WFD budget is about the same as the “installation” cost of the lit turf field!

How can the BOE, in good conscience, justify this lit turf luxury?

The BOE has not sufficiently addressed concerns on the maintenance cost of the field over the course of its life, plus the maintenance cost of the seven 80 ft. light poles, the bleacher seating for 800 people, new brick fence to surround the field, etc. Not to mention the cost for disposal of a turf field when replacement is needed. We did a quick search on turf field disposal and found that when artificial turf (in-fill systems) needs renovating every 8-10 years, there is a hidden cost of disposal. Because the field is filled and top-dressed with a crumb rubber material (typically made from ground automobile tires), the material may require special disposal. Disposal costs are estimated at $130,000 plus transportation and landfill charges. 

These are among many concerns that the BOE should address before spending our tax dollars. After all, Westfield taxpayers will be burdened with the expense and inconvenience of this lit turf field from the moment it is installed.

The field will be installed in an already crowded and overburdened residential neighborhood, which houses a high school, parochial school, churches, armory activities, as well as commuter parking. How much more congestion can our streets handle?

When asked by local residents during a meeting a couple of months ago, “if you would be happy about having an 80 ft. light pole in your back yard,” the BOE President Rich Mattessich admitted, “I would not be happy about it”. But he can put seven in essentially the back yards of 30 houses, plus surrounding residential blocks, not to mention the spillage beyond! For perspective, Houlihan & Sid Fey fields light poles stand at 60 ft. So, whether you live right next-door, the next block over or further, you’ll more than likely see the seven proposed 80 ft. light poles. 

Sandra Mamary, the Supervisor of Athletics at Westfield High School, mentioned that the students were very excited about the lit turf field.  Just a couple of questions:

  • Which students were happy, the athletes, or all of the students? Is everyone thrilled that so much emphasis (and money) is being placed on sports rather than education?
  • Were ANY dangers of turf fields clearly outlined? Just a few we’ve read about:
    • Increased concussions
    • ACL injuries
    • Staph infections
    • Dangerously high temperatures (90 degree day = 110-120 degree turf field). We understand from the BOE meeting on 8/28/12 that the heat dangers will affect kids mostly from the waist down, and that from the waist up, they should be ok. So, half of their body may over-heat while the other half is... er, ok?! Is that supposed to make us feel better? 
    • Turf toe and ankle sprains
    • Please take a moment to watch this video discussing “Artificial Fields - Bacteria Dangers” - www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQvj3F2Zg6k
    • Please Google “Turf Field Dangers” for more detail

If the dangers of a turf field weren’t clearly outlined, isn’t it important to do so before you ask students to have gym class and play afterschool sports on it?

In the end, the bundling of the two bond referendums, one for a LUXURY - the lit turf field, and the other for a NECESSITY - school roof repairs, considerably undermines the taxpayers/voters in Westfield, and removes from us our ability to choose what is important to us. 

Please let’s not lose control of our taxpayer dollars to the BOE. We strongly encourage everyone to join us in voting NO to the bundled bond referendum on Monday, September 24th.  

Kerry Jean & Michael Murphy – Westfield, NJ 

Time For Change September 07, 2012 at 11:48 AM
Jeff B. -For someone with so much to say about all of this, one would have thought that you had attended every Board meeting and in fact, had all of the answers. As someone who has been to a good number of the meetings and who ha spoken to a number of the Board members on both sides of the proposal, here is what I have heard. The useful life of these new turf fields is longer than what was used on Houlihan and Sid Fey because it is newer technology. Nobody knows for sure how long it will last; it depends on the amount of play it gets and the ongoing maintenance program that is followed. 10-12 years has bee thrown out. Keep in mind that the $3.3 million is for the entire "complex", not just the turf. The actual replacement cost of the turf itself I don't believe has been identified, but THIS Board has said that they will budget a portion each year over the estimated useful life to replace the turf when the time comes. In addition, they have also said that they will start doing the same thing in the next budget for the Kehler turf. So, in answer to your question-- funding to come from annual budgets. And by the way, what's NEW information to some, is not really all that new. You just have to be interested in understanding the COMPLETE story and discussing the facts and not only the half truths-- funny, watching this board, its almost like watching the Republican and Democratic conventions.
Rationally Speaking September 07, 2012 at 07:44 PM
Time for Change needs to get off his high horse. Just because you choose to spend your time/energy and have the inclination to give your full attention to this issue doesn't mean that everyone can or wants to. The issue is simple: Should the district's priority - especially during lean times - be in something as non-essential, for a very limited population, negatively impacting lots of residents? Can such a largess be used in a more worthwhile way using an open, honest and transparent process. For me it's
Walkin Westfield September 08, 2012 at 12:52 AM
What you call new technology is the industry responding to law suits forcing them to remove the hazardous metals from their product and has nothing to do with the longevity of the product. If the BOE is budgeting for the million dollar disposal and replacement cost of each field it is doing so at the detriment of its mission to further the education of Westfield students.
kathy gilmartin September 11, 2012 at 05:13 PM
Westfield residents do not need anymore taxes. Luxury items should be curtailed at this time. The issues should have been separated. Roofs are necessary a turf field is not. VOTE NO.
Doogie Howser September 11, 2012 at 05:50 PM
Why do you not consider useable fields part of "getting a better education?" Money is spent today maintaining the crappy fields the schools currently have. The BOE's role is to improve things - and the fields in our town are an embarassment. These fields are NOT a luxury - they are a necessity. Look at CHatham's field complex, for a great example. Physical education is an integral part of the education process - and our children are constantly playing on fields that are inferior to our neighboring towns. The impact of the field portion of the bond issue is miniscule ona per house/per annum basis. I wish people would stop equating the teacher's pay raise with this. You would ask the teachers to give up hundreds or thousands of dollars per year "for the good of the kids" yet you are whining about paying a much smaller amount per year for roofs and fields. Maybe you're all just a bunch of cheap bastards? PS - for all of the whining about the teacher's pay raise - I'd love to get an honest survey of how many Westfielder's have seen their pay stay flat or decrease over the past several years - judging from the construction, lawn service, etc all over town, the number can't be as big as suggested. VOTE YES - Our fields suck.

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