By Ron Leir
NORTH ARLINGTON –
Opposition by the Democratic majority and Mayor Peter Massa notwithstanding, North Arlington voters on March 12 approved a referendum authorizing the Board of Education (BOE) to borrow up to $3.38 million for a revamped high school Foley Field athletic complex.
Paying off the debt figures to cost the average borough taxpayer $60 a year, beginning in 2015, the BOE has estimated.
The tally, including absentees, was 950 in favor and 718 opposed, according to Borough Administrator Terence Wall. A bit more than 18% of the borough’s 9,132 registered voters turned out, he said.
Both Massa and BOE President George McDermott cited a last-minute flier advocating the measure as helping sway borough voters. The unattributed flier reads: “Supported & Approved By the Parents Referendum Committee.”
Massa griped that the flier, as an election-related document, should have listed the funding source for the material, as per state election law. He said he may ask the state Election Law Enforcement Commission to investigate whether that constituted a legal violation.
But the mayor mentioned nothing about contesting the election results. Massa had called the proposal ill-timed and wrong-headed in light of the county planning a massive upgrade of Riverside Park playing fields and the prospects of more flooding at the Foley Field site.
McDermott, a borough police officer, said he couldn’t make a judgment about the questioned legality of the flier but added that a BOE committee comprised of former Schools Superintendent Anthony Blanco, Joseph Riccardelli and himself “worked hard to ensure that all information [about the proposed project] was brought to the board and the public. Nothing was hidden; everything was by the book.”
And he credited parents of kids in borough recreation programs with having gone “above and beyond, going door-to-door” to talk up the virtues of the referendum.
In any event, the BOE is now greenlighted to proceed with these improvements: “a 6-lane track, a [synthetic turf] multipurpose [football, soccer and baseball] athletic field, and storage, restroom and concession stand buildings, including acquiring the State’s riparian rights that run under and through the improvements to the field, any necessary improvements, upgrades … equipment and site work ….”
The BOE is authorized to issue bonds to cover the cost of the project and, because the project isn’t eligible for state support, is permitted to apply local funds to help complete the work.
Asked when the BOE would go to the bond market, McDermott said it will fall to the board accountants to figure out how best to exploit the current “historically low bonding rates.”
Meanwhile, he said, sometime “in the next two to three weeks,” residents should expect to see, as a prelude to the big project, removal of the old high school locker rooms and, by the summer, installation of the new locker rooms.
Once the high school football season ends at the end of November, “we will close the field completely,” McDermott said. “By then all of our [rebuilding] plans should be approved by the state and we should be ready to go.”
Foley Field’s renovation, according to the BOE, is key to retaining existing borough parents and to attracting new families who, the board says, will be impressed by an “aesthetically pleasing” athletic complex their kids can enjoy.
Even if the county provides a new multipurpose field that can accommodate high school football, McDermott said that North Arlington would still have to apply for a permit to use the field, along with all other possible users, with no guarantee for playing dates.
“Having an inter-local agreement with the county is not going to change the fact that you’re just another number in the [permit] pecking order,” he added.
And, he said, the county won’t be providing any lockers or concession stand or bathrooms limited to high school players, who would have to share existing restrooms with the public – not the ideal situation.
As for the scenario of storm waters inundating the improved field, McDermott said: “We understand the potential for flooding and we’ve asked the architects and engineers what to do about that and about how to clean the field if it does flood.”
A BOE fact sheet says the turf field will be equipped with a “quick flow” drainage system, and, during a tidal flow, a covering that will be secured to the interior track curb “to prevent uplift” and facilitate “faster cleanup of storm debris.” It says that the track will be protected by “additional exterior concrete curb,” a warranty covered “impermeable surface,” and drainage around its perimeter.
Additionally, the BOE says, the new buildings will be elevated two feet above the high water mark and electrical service will be “mounted well above [the] flood plain.”
And, according to McDermott, the track will be made available to the community during the morning for walking or running exercises and the field itself will be open for use, when available, by borough recreation programs, “based on permit requests,” for practices and games.