OPINION: Prioritize Underhill Field Turf Replacement for Summer 2021

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The following comments were presented to the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education at their regular meeting on April 19, 2021:

I’m Glenn Minerley, representing the MAPSO Recreational Fields Taskforce. As you know, we were incredibly vocal in 2019; organizing support for inclusion of the Underhill turf replacement and Ritzer turf project in the capital infrastructure bond. Since the passing of the bond and most likely due to the pandemic, the construction plan and roll out of each element has not been very transparent. Only recently, did we learn that the turf replacement at Underhill is not slated until the end of the timeline, potentially FOUR YEARS AWAY.

I’m here today to advocate for a re-prioritization of scheduling to push the Underhill turf replacement up to THIS SUMMER. To be clear we’re referencing a project that has already been green lit, with earmarked funds and an approved plan. We are not asking for any incremental funding or anything new- simply a prioritization. 

There are a few reasons why this prioritization is required:

  1. We’ve warned this administration for years, this field is simply unsafe. Someone is going to get hurt. It’s well past its 10-11 year expected life cycle. Might I remind the board how last year, we had to cancel a series of varsity events because a visiting team refused to play on the field citing field conditions. Now, the turf fibers are decaying at an alarming rate. Facebook has been inundated with parent complaints, this season, that the turf is shedding everywhere and is threadbare. It’s well known this district has had to deal with myriad lawsuits in the past decade. An injury WILL occur on this field due to its poor condition and a negligence suit will be filed. It’s simply inevitable .
  2. There’s a current narrative that the Board doesn’t want the field project to delay the planned HVAC work that is required on the HS in order to be COVID compliant. Let me remind the board of the fact the field isn’t anywhere near the HS, the turf replacement is leveraging pre-approved earmarked funds and the project requires a separate specialist turf vendor who will have nothing to do with the general contractor/ HVAC contractor. It’s clear these two projects can run parallel.
  3. This administration has had real and significant PR challenges over the past 12 months related to the reopening of schools. Prioritizing the turf blanket replacement for this summer gives the board a quick win with an incredibly vocal and sizeable group of district parents using already earmarked funds.
  4. If nothing else, this pandemic has shined a light on just how important it is to have a safe space to play outside. If you walked out on Underhill on any day you would see no less than 75-100 kids carving out space for activities. This access has provided a glimmer of hope and happiness to these kids in a year where little else has been available.

In closing, there is a palpable frustration by this taskforce and the parents of SOMA athletes, in general, as to how this has been handled. I recognize that the pandemic, the reopening of schools and the related battles with the teachers union have been the priority for this board but, right, wrong or indifferent, there is a general perception by the SOMA athlete family that this administration had a 6-14 month window where the BOE campuses were not being used to act on an already green lit project and failed to do so. Please make this right by quickly prioritizing this project and swiftly acting to ensure this project can be recognized in the limited window of opportunity you have before Fall sports resume.

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