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6-3 vote moves Boyertown Schools closer to turf fields

COLEBROOKDALE — In the wake of a spirited discussion — both from the public and among the Boyertown School Board members — a 6-3 vote moved the district one step closer toward installing at least one turf field at an estimated cost of nearly $7 million.

Voting against a motion to authorize the district’s legal firm to begin soliciting requests for proposals from architecture firms was Ruth Dierolf, Christine Neiman and James Brophy. Voting in favor were School Board President Anthony Panarello, Vice President Jeffrey Zawada and board members Marianne Scott, Roger Updegrove, Brad Updegrove and Wendy Kratz.

The large audience — large enough to encourage the meeting to be moved from the administration building to Colebrookdale Elementary School — erupted in applause after the vote.

Boyertown girls soccer coach Bill Goddard said his players have been using the same field for 24 years" and said being the only area team to play on natural grass puts his players at a disadvantage. "It's not a level playing field." (Image via BASD-TV)
Boyertown girls soccer coach Bill Goddard said his players have been using the same field for 24 years” and said being the only area team to play on natural grass puts his players at a disadvantage. “It’s not a level playing field.” (Image via BASD-TV)

Twenty-four of the 25 members of the public who addressed the board prior to the vote all spoke on the issue of installing turf fields. Of those, only four opposed an immediate vote on the matter or raised questions about whether the district, or its taxpayers, could afford it.

The main argument in favor of turf, made Tuesday mostly by those associated with the field hockey team and the marching band, boils down to equity with what other school districts have, and the ability to use the fields much more intensely and in bad weather, thus allowing for more practice time.

One realtor also argued that investing in district facilities would ultimately raise property values.

Field hockey coach Alicia Terizzi told the board “what we’re asking for is not totally over the top or outrageous.”

Boys soccer coach Matthew Danner told the board installing turf is the equivalent of the construction of the baseball and football stadiums in the 1980s. That investment “has a social and emotional benefit to the hearts of the Boyertown community,” he said.

Lacrosse coach Pam Wernersbach choosing against installing turf fields would “create a barrier to student success.”

Current cost estimates for installing turf at the football stadium stand at $3.2 million and $3.5 million for the multi use soccer, lacrosse, field hockey field. (Image via BASD-TV)
Current cost estimates for installing turf at the football stadium stand at $3.2 million and $3.5 million for the multi use soccer, lacrosse, field hockey field. (Image via BASD-TV)

Two speakers, Jon Emeigh and Nicole Zelcs, said they do not oppose turf fields, but believe the board is moving ahead too quickly, in a haphazard way that could prose financial problems later.

“If you’re going to vote for turf, you should show how you’re going to pay for it, and improve other programs too,” said Emeigh. “Otherwise, what you’re doing here is just political theater.”

Resident Paula Brophy said she cannot afford the taxes as they are now, and this project benefits 214 children in a district of 6,600. “That works out to $25,000 to $30,000 per kid, all of whom will not be here in a couple of years.”

According to information provided to the board by Chief Financial Officer Patricia Denicola, the district capital reserve fund stands at $23 million and during the Feb. 20 meeting, she identified a number of capital projects whose cost adds up to about $10 million. That figure does not include the two turf fields, the estimate for which currently stands at $6.7 million.

During a testy exchange between Brophy, Neiman, Dierolf and Panarello the question of whether the district can afford to safely drain so much of its capital fund without putting the district at risk was debated.

“New Hanover/Upper Frederick needs a new roof and Boyertown Elementary is 55 years old and has never been upgraded,” said Neiman. “The heat is not working properly there. It needs to be upgraded now. We can’t have kids with their coats on inside a school building.” She pointed out that the turf fields are not part of the 10-year capital plan to which Denicola referred at the previous board meeting.

Panarello, who regularly interrupted Neiman, Brophy and Dierolf as they tried to speak, said the district can afford to install the turf fields without causing a tax increase above the annual 3 percent the district has levied in recent years. Brophy said the board is about to “rob the capital reserve fund.”

Brophy criticized the absence of a feasibility study, saying “you’ve only left us one choice, one solution,” and Panarello quipped “you’re going to vote no because you’re getting outside pressure, people telling you you’ll never be elected again.”

Boyertown School board member Christine Neiman, right, said Boyertown has more urgent capital needs than artificial turf fields. (Image via BASD-TV)
Boyertown School board member Christine Neiman, right, said Boyertown has more urgent capital needs than artificial turf fields. (Image via BASD-TV)

Brophy also said turf fields can be dangerous to the environment and to student health. Both and Dierolf took up a suggestion made by one of the night’s speakers and suggested the mater be put to a public referendum.

“That’s it, we’re done,” Panarello said, cutting off discussion. “You’re allowed three minutes and you’ve both had more than three minutes.”

Zawada urged the public to step up and begin to raise money, as it did for the baseball stadium, to reduce the impact on taxpayers and also said he had been told by the district’s state representative that $2 million or $3 million in state grants are available to help pay the costs, adding “we will not have to raise taxes for these fields.”

District Solicitor Jeffrey Sultanik confirmed that there are still many votes to come before the project is fully authorized and construction can begin.


Source: Berkshire mont

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