Updated: 12:08 a.m. Westfield voters have spoken and in a surprisingly large turnout for a school board election the $16.9 million bond referendum was defeated 3,874 votes to 1,508.
The Westfield Board of Education proposed the single bond referendum in order to fund two multi-million dollar capital projects—district-wide roof repairs and a lighted turf field.
The proposal drew the ire of some Westfield residents who viewed the repairs as a necessity and deemed the field a luxury.
Edgar Road resident Scott Robb opposed the synthetic turf field not only because of the traffic, noise and lights he believed would accompany it, but also because he did not agree with the bundling of the two projects.
"Obviously, we, along with all the neighbors surrounding the high school field, are very happy with the results," Robb wrote in an email to Patch Monday evening. "The taxpayers have spoken and have clearly said that it is not the time to issue more debt for these multi-million dollar projects, that we do not appreciate that our freedom of choice was taken away when they decided to bundle both projects, and that a lit turf field does not belong in an over-burdened residential neighborhood. We are hopeful that the BoE has heard us, and in the future, will work with us to come up with a solution that is fair to all."
Margaret Dolan, superintendent of schools, waited with Board members Mitch Slater, Gretchan Ohlig, Rich Mattessich, Jane Clancy, Rosanne Kurstedt and Ginny Leiz at the Municipal Building as the votes were tallied.
In a prepared statement released following the count, Dolan said, "Thank you to all who took the time to vote today. The elected members of the Westfield Board of Education have always taken their responsibilities to the students and the residents of Westfield to heart. The current Board of Education continues this tradition. Our 6,300 students benefit from the decisions that are made on their behalf. The Facilities Committee of the Board of Education will meet to readdress the needs of our buildings and fields."
When asked when or if a separate bond referendum could be voted on to pay for only the roofs, Dolan said the earliest would be "in December if the Board chooses to do that."
When asked if the Board would continue to pursue a turf field, BOE president Mattessich said it was too soon to say.
"We don't know. We just got the results. They obviously will weigh heavily on anything we talk about. Facilities will take this away. We'll look at our needs. We still need the roofs. We still have buildings and grounds issues to look at. We'll find a way to take care of everything over time. We'll make a recommendation to the Board in a public meeting and go from there," he said.
Mattessich added that the Facilities Committee will meet within a week's time but both he and Dolan agreed it was too soon to tell when a recommendation could be made on the next course of action.
When asked if Mattessich thought marrying the two projects is what caused the bond's defeat, he said, "We certainly heard more comments on the turf field than anything on the roofs. We'll have to look at what we put back on a referendum, when we do it and what it encompasses.
"What we'll do at the end of the year when we get our final audit results, we'll know how much surplus the Board of Ed has from the prior school year, and we'll allocate that. We have a five-year facilites plan that regardless of the roofs or the field can absorb that funding. There's a lot to do. It's all part of the same balancing act. It's the primary reason we went outside the normal course to try to fund the roofs and the field."
Slater, who with BOE members Ohlig and Mark Friedman, voted to separate the roofs from the field, said he wanted to respond but was asked by the Board to not speak.
Westfield schools supervisor of athletics Sandy Mamary was also at the Municipal Building to hear the outcome of the special election that saw 25 percent of residents turn out to vote. Deflated but gracious, Mamary, a champion of the proposed field, thanked those who voted for voicing their opinions.
In the meantime, residents of the neighborhood that surrounds Westfield High School were celebrating.
Jonah Gensler, whose backyard abuts WHS's natural grass field said, "Tonight, a patchwork of neighbors wielding $2 signs and hand-cut fliers triumphed over a professional team selling us on stadium lights, plastic turf and a 20-year mortgage. An overwhelming majority of Westfielders rejected the bundling of a necessity with a luxury by voting No on this bond."
Gensler added that he felt the maintenance and repair costs for the lit turf field were never fully articulated.
"Those costs would indeed compete with having enough teachers for our kids and making sure their classrooms have all the resources for optimal learning," he said. "I took my children, 1, 3 and 5, along with me as we chatted with neighbors and talked to commuters at the train station about the future we want for Westfield: a future with natural green fields and a fair say in how our tax dollars are spent. They learned some important lessons in democracy: that you should fight for what you believe in while engaging respectfully with all those in your community - and that you can make a difference. Thank you, neighbors, for not letting my kids down."
Did you vote today? If so, are you happy with the outcome?