Signs are positive that improvements may be coming to Ritzer Field at Columbia High School and Underhill Field in Maplewood.
The fields are major components in the South Orange-Maplewood School District’s sports programs. However, Ritzer is an uneven playing field that often is reduced to mud and dust — and is without lighting for night-time practices or games. Underhill, though far superior, is in need of new turf.
Parents in the district created a Facebook group and a petition (now signed by more than 3,200 people) to seek improvements at Ritzer and at the Underhill Complex estimated to cost about $5 million.
Glenn Minerley of the Facebook group MAPSO Recreation Fields Task Force read a statement from the group at the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education’s November 19 meeting, calling for the district to allocate additional funds for: 1) a new turf at Underhill Field; 2) a turf field on Ritzer; and 3) field lights on Ritzer. Minerley said that the district’s children were both at risk and disadvantaged by current field conditions.
See Minerley’s full statement to the BOE below.
On December 4, South Orange Village President Sheena Collum indicated that the three South Orange Trustees who are members of the Board of School Estimate (the entity that will approve the tax levy to pay the bonds on the improvements) was in support of the field improvements. Collum wrote on Facebook: “On Thursday [December 6], you can expect that all representatives to the Board of School Estimate from South Orange (me, Trustee [Howard] Levison and Trustee [Karen] Hilton) will support moving forward with the plan and also will be asking our colleagues to INCLUDE both air conditioning and upgrades to our fields. We did not believe these were ‘optional’ items or ‘add-ons.'”
According to the SOMSD website, the Board of School Estimate “is comprised of three members of the Village Trustees of South Orange, three members of the Township Committee of Maplewood and two members of the Board of Education.”
In response to a Village Green request for comment, BOE President Elizabeth Baker also indicated potential support for the field improvements, writing, “With respect to Ritzer and the lighting … we are looking to get estimates [for] the cost of the Ritzer work and, if that goes well, it can be added in December to the LRFP submission and BSE consideration. How we fund the work is a different question though. Given that Ritzer couldn’t be started until after the rest of the HS project is completed, there was discussion late in the meeting that by that time we may also be in a position to have built up capital reserves fund from the energy and other savings we will be realizing. So, depending on the price tag, we may be able to do the work from capital reserve and not bonding. If we do need to bond we will need BSE approval.”
Village Green has since spoken with a member of the MAPSO Recreation Field Task Force who reports that both Underhill and Ritzer improvements have support from an overwhelming number of BSE members.
The “LRFP” is the approximately $140M SOMSD Long Range Facilities Plan which was approved by the BOE in early morning hours of November 20. The district will be presenting the plan to the Board of School Estimate (the “BSE”) at an informal public workshop at 7 p.m. on Thursday, December 6 at the meeting room at 525 Academy Street. The BSE is expected to vote on funding for the LRFP in March. Read more about the Long Range Facilities Plan here.
Board of Education: Petition Presentation by Glenn Minerley on behalf of MAPSO Recreation Fields Task Force:
Ladies and Gentlemen. Members of the Board,
By way of introduction, my name is Glenn Minerley. Today, I’m representing an organized collective of local youth sports groups including lacrosse, softball, baseball, soccer, flag football, field hockey, Ultimate Frisbee, also the CHS Marching Band.
The leaders of these organizations stand alongside me, here. As you are very much aware and positioned to remedy today, the school infrastructure in Maplewood/South Orange is in desperate need of wholesale upgrades. The Long Term Facilities Bond you are prepared to vote on today is going to rightfully address the major infrastructure needs of this school district. Visible upgrades to classrooms, bathrooms, and water fountains and crucial behind the scenes upgrades like boilers and HVAC have long been neglected. We, as a community, are proud that you will finally address the decades of wear and tear that have been neglected for too long and excited at the prospect of a more fulfilling learning environment for our children.
I stand before you today, however, requesting you acknowledge that a child’s education is diverse and not limited to the classroom. The discipline, teamwork and leadership skills learned on the athletic field have been critical to my professional success and I know is crucial to developing the future leaders this district is so famous for producing.
The current Long Term Facilities Plan does not currently account for any upgrades of BOE athletic fields. The CHS athletes, the youth programs represented here, and even adult recreational programs rely on these fields, throughout the year, and their current state is unsatisfactory and quite frankly, unsafe.
This task force represents the thousands of families that actively participate in youth sports in Maplewood/South Orange. We have organized and conducted outreach to speak directly to these families on their concerns and the response is clear, these families demand a safe playing environment for their kids to compete. The sports and recreation fields within the Maplewood/South Orange community do not reflect the vitality of our sports programs and do not do justice to the passions of our student athletes. A growing and shifting population, increasing popularity of organized athletics, underfunded field maintenance, field neglect and climate change are all contributing factors to the issue.
Today, we present to you a petition; signed by over 2,600 citizens, representing parents and alumni, alike, requesting that the BOE allocate additional funds from the Capital Improvement Bond to go towards the following upgrades/improvements on BOE owned and operated facilities:
1) Replacement of the aging and failing field turf on Underhill Field
2) Implementation of a field turf surface on the Ritzer complex
3) Installation of field lights on Ritzer complex to allow for evening activity
(We have consulted specialists in the field and it is anticipated that these upgrades will total approximately $5 million dollars.)
Throughout this process, we have experienced nearly universal support from the local athletic family community. There is genuine concern that our children are both at risk and disadvantage by the current state of the fields.
We recognize the myriad issues that this Long Term Facilities Bond needs to fix. It’s no small task. However, this is a once in a generation opportunity to recognize the important role athletics plays in our kids’ education and we hope the Board will acknowledge the importance of allocating the proper funds for these much needed field improvements.