In a heated three-and-a-half-hour meeting, a large group of Westfield residents let members know not only are they unhappy about the proposed installation of a lighted turf field at but they are also upset about the fact that funding for the field has been lumped in with district-wide roof repairs.
Approximately 100 residents attended Tuesday evening's neighborhood outreach meeting, which was held at WHS and hosted by Westfield BOE president Richard Mattessich, facilities chair Jane Clancy and Westfield schools' athletic supervisor Sandy Mamary.
Also in attendance were Bob Zoeller from Musco Lighting, architect George Duthie and Perry Di Piazza of Field Turf, who presented an overview of the proposed field.
Plans for the in mid-May. The district's answer to the swelling student population, the field would be able to accommodate three gym classes per period, allow for more diverse physical education activities and make it easier to hold class outdoors more months of the year, Mamary stated during a presentation before the Board this spring. The lights would extend both practice and play times for teams.
The field comes with a $3.3 million price tag and would be funded by part of a $16 million bond referendum, to be voted on Sept. 24, which will also cover a replacement project. The Board the projects at a public meeting held on June 5.
Clancy and schools superintendent Dr. Margaret Dolan explained that costly repairs to natural grass fields can often be undone in a matter of months due to weather or continuous use, making refurbishing existing fields an unattractive alternative.
Residents' main concerns regarding the proposed field include light shining into their homes, noise from practices that could last well into the evening, decreased property values and increased traffic in what they consider to be an already "overburdened area." But the recurring question residents put to BOE members was: "Why not separate the bonds?"
Mattessich said he took into account feedback on both sides of the issue and said he believed that just as people at the outreach meeting would vote for the roof repairs but not for the turf field, there were others who would vote against the roof work but for a lighted, synthetic field.
"You took away our freedom of choice," said Codding Road resident Kerry Murphy.
Others agreed that while they would have voted for the roof repairs, now they will not because they do not want the field, and all that comes with it, in their neighbhorhood.
BOE member Rosanne Kurstedt said she voted for one referendum because she thinks both projects will benefit the district. She added that she believes it is her responsibility to make decisions that are in the best interest of the entire district. Kurstedt also said because of low interest rates and the current bond schedule, doing both projects now would not cost taxpayers as much as it would at other times.
Other parents said they believe the field is an unnecessary expense, especially when schools need upgrades and maintenance. One dad said his daughter brought four rolls of paper towels with her to school this spring because the school had run out of them.
While some residents said the field proposal looked "great" or "magnificient," none said they believed the expense was justifiable given the other needs within the school district.
While the experts were available to answer the public's questions, several times presentations were interrupted as residents spoke over one another, many echoing similar questions and comments.
Scott Robb, who plays and coaches on Cranford's synthetic field, pointed out that the temperature on turf gets much higher than it does on natural grass, often to the point of becoming dangerous to athletes. Di Piazza of Field Turf noted that turf can register 20 degrees hotter because it lacks the moisture that natural grass has. He did say that ahead of events the field can be soaked, which can lower the temperature.
Other questions, specifically regarding the lights, could not be answered as Zoeller said he was waiting on specifics from the Board but could have more detailed plans available within a week.
The district will post a list of FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) on its website shortly.
Here are several questions that were asked and answered:
Q. What is the seating capacity of the proposed field?
A. At present, seating capacity is 540, with six sections of 90 seats each, with the capacity to expand to seat up to 800.
Q. Will port-o-johns be on the field?
A. No, the school building will be open when the field is in use.
Q. How long will a synthetic turf field last?
A. With proper maintenance, approximately 12 years.
Q. How long is the warranty?
A. Eight years
Q. What time will the lights be turned off?
A. While they are currently off at 9:30 p.m. at Sid Fay, the Board has yet to put a plan in place to regulate a shut-off time.
Q. Can the bonds be separated now?
A. No. The vote will take place on Sept. 24.
Q. Why is the vote in September and not November?
A. Because the extra time is needed to get the roof project underway so that it can begin in June 2013 in order to be completed before school resumes in September.
Q. How many light poles will there be and how tall are they?
A. There will be seven. Six will be 80 feet and one will be 60 feet tall.
Q. How long would it take to construct?
A. Four to five months.
When asked if another outreach meeting was planned, Mattessich said the Board is open to "continuous feedback."
The next scheduled Board meeting will be held at 8 p.m. on Aug. 28
For more information, visit the school district's website at www.westfieldnjk12.org.