As a result of renovation work that began in 1998 at the Union County Meisel Avenue Park field, possible contamination was discovered. Investigative and remediation efforts commenced which disrupted recreation activities at the location.
Springfield suffered a significant setback due to the rehabilitation work being performed on the Union County Meisel Avenue park field and the sports programs were severely stunted until 2005 when they began their path to recovery. The rehabilitation work was completed hastily, without sufficient community input and feedback and to subpar standards. The field condition quickly deteriorated due to overuse, inadequate maintenance and poor construction. The impractical logistics of the field also made it unusable due to lack of seating or working areas.
In 2008, a group of concerned Springfield citizens banded together around a common goal of improving recreational facilities utilized by the schools’ sports teams and extracurricular sports teams comprised of Springfield youth. The Sideliners Club worked diligently to overcome some of the challenges by independently raising funds for temporary seating. This private effort proved difficult to sustain in the long-term.
In 2009, another non-profit group, the Springfield Athletic Turf Foundation, formed to privately raise funds for a "turf" field for the benefit of the Springfield community. The group conducted a private fundraising campaign for the construction and development of an athletic turf complex at Jonathan Dayton High School to include a multi-purpose field to be used for football, soccer, lacrosse and softball. The group retained a professional to draft engineering plans for the complex and presented the proposal to the Township of Springfield. High-school football teams made arrangements with Union Township for usage of their facilities.
In 2010, then-Mayor Ziad Andrew Shehady, along with Committeeman Jerry Fernandez and Committeeman Marc Krauss, eagerly supported the idea of developing a turf field and embraced the plan developed by the Springfield Athletic Turf Foundation. On behalf of the Township, Mr. Shehady and Mr. Fernandez met with members of the Springfield Schools Administration and Board of Education to demonstrate a commitment towards the construction and development of an athletic turf complex and to formulate a plan that would accomplish the goal without an additional burden to taxpayers. An agreement was finally reached; the Township Committee voted to authorize execution of the agreement on December 28, 2010 (Mr. Shehady, Mr. Fernandez, Mr. Krauss and Mr. Fraenkel in favor, Mr. Keffer absent) and the Board of Education voted unanimously in support of the agreement on January 10, 2011.
Unfortunately, the 2011 Township Committee allowed this project to fall by the wayside and did not dedicate the necessary energy or attention to the steps outlined in the agreement in order to move the project forward. It was reluctantly mentioned at Township Committee meetings only at the behest of Committeeman Jerry Fernandez. Mayor Hugh Keffer offered inconclusive comments with very vague references to any progress being made. Official comments from the Township often contradicted private comments. Statements were made that the State was reviewing a proposal and that Union County was considering financing the project. The taxpayers of Springfield send over $10 million annually to Union County for county taxes and have sent over $3.5 million in additional funds to the County Open Space, Recreation, and Historic Preservation Trust Fund yet only a small fraction of that money has been returned to Springfield.
After four very exhausting years, the time has come for Springfield to take decisive action. Numerous plans, studies, meetings, discussions have yet to produce a sufficient athletic field that will benefit our community. Springfield has been held back for far too long. Past politicians spew rhetoric but lack bold and courageous leadership needed to drive Springfield forward into the future to compete with neighboring communities and elevate us to a standard of excellence that we can all be proud of. If this project is going to happen, a Township Committee needs to finally be inspired enough to put forth a proposal that will be presented publicly and voted on. Springfield residents deserve better and I will not settle for less. If we do not take a chance and invest for the future, we will fall behind our counterparts. No more amount of time spent on this project will be productive or fruitful. This success is dependent on our schools, our infrastructure, and our economic health.
The athletic field project has been studied by the Springfield Athletic Turf Foundation and a desire by several hundred residents has been shown for the project giving the Township Committee a clear indication to act. The Springfield Athletic Turf Foundation began laying the foundation for the proposal by retaining professionals to study the feasibility, prepare engineering plans, submit permits and privately raise funds. The Springfield School Board has offered their support both financially and logistically.
The proposed athletic turf field project at hand will serve to benefit:
- Our schools: Education has never been as competitive as it is today. Public schools are in fierce competition with private schools. Secondary education is taking on a new role as it transforms into a more collegiate institution. The extracurricular offerings contribute to the allure of a high school when residents purchase a home, when parents decide in what school to enroll their children and when college admissions review the well-rounded performance of applicants. As of 2008, there were over 150 turf fields installed in New Jersey. All but 2 towns adjacent to Springfield have turf fields. The rising trend in Union County is towards turf fields; nearly half of the school districts in the County have a turf field.
- Our infrastructure: Springfield does not even have its own most basic athletic complex for any home games. Public and private programs in Springfield are expanding at all age levels. Our existing fields are unable to meet the demand and lack the most basic necessities for sporting events, such as seating, lighting or restrooms. This project can accommodate multiple sports, such as football, soccer, baseball, lacrosse, and tennis. Because of Springfield’s geography, our fields all require more attention by engineers than they have been receiving. This project is a much needed step towards gradually solving those problems. There is no better way to inspire excellence in sports and instill physical fitness than to give our youth a sports complex they can eagerly look forward to.
- Our economic health: Hundreds of people are actually leaving Springfield! For the last few years, our high school football team has not played a game at home. They don’t have a place to play and other teams will not come to play our teams in town. The result is thousands of dollars being spent to rent playing fields out of Springfield. That’s our tax dollars going to benefit another community. Our athletes, along with their family and friends, are leaving Springfield to play elsewhere and while they are out of town, they are shopping and dining at the competition. Additionally, the opposing athletes, along with their family and friends, aren’t shopping or dining in Springfield. With an athletic turf field just a few blocks away from Downtown Mountain Avenue and Downtown Morris Avenue, prospective businesses will see a growing potential market for their products or services. We need to give businesses a reason to come to Springfield and stay here. The privately-owned commercial properties need to thrive in order to invest in improving their buildings. This economic success will have a positive ripple effect on the demand for homes in Springfield instead of losing potential homebuyers to neighboring communities.
The athletic field will be located on Mountain Avenue adjacent to Jonathan Dayton High School. The field will be multipurpose serving several sports with seating for over 500, a press box, a refreshment stand, restrooms and lighting – this project accounts for complex engineering to ensure quality, safety and environmental friendliness. The suggested location is ideal considering its proximity to the High School and both Mountain Avenue and Morris Avenue downtowns. Parking is unsurpassed at the High School and the traffic flow is most manageable at that location. The impact to residential neighborhood is relatively minimal and the visibility of this complex to passersby will stir hearts.
Barring difficult conditions or extreme circumstances, if the field is to be ready for use for the 2012 fall season, February is the latest that the Township Committee can take any action. The first step is to determine if there is financial backing to support the project. Therefore, a bond ordinance (Ordinance 2012-04) has been prepared by the Township of Springfield’s Bond Counsel, Rogut McCarthey, LLC. [http://zszs.us/w8ikbY] This ordinance will be introduced at the February 14 Township Committee meeting. No other items or issues concerning the field project besides this funding mechanism will be considered (i.e. the technical specifications of the field or vendor requirements) by the Township Committee until the bond ordinance is adopted. After several legal steps have been complete, the bond ordinance will again be considered at the February 28 Township Committee for a final reading, a public hearing and a final vote. In order to adopt the bond ordinance, at least two-thirds of the members of the Township Committee must vote in the affirmative.
If the bond ordinance is successfully adopted, the professionals will be able to proceed with preparing the technical specifications for the solicitation of bids in consultation with the Board of Education, the Planning Board, and the Environmental Commission. During this process, the construction materials and vendor technology to be used will be evaluated and selected. It makes no sense to waste money, time, and energy to prepare more technical paperwork, studies, specifications and blueprints for a project that will not get the green light for funding.
Adopting Ordinance 2012-04 does not commit the Township to actually spending any of the money allocated – it provides the mechanism for the funding. The expenditure of these funds, the preparation of specifications, the authorization to solicit bids and the award of a contract will require further government action and votes.
There is no requirement that the Township actually bear the full burden of the bond ordinance. A general scope of work has been assembled in order to determine what financial commitments are necessary. A high estimate for the complex is $3.4 million. [http://zszs.us/z0Gf5X] The competitive nature of the bidding process typically results in bids lower than estimated and so the debt burden is the actual reduced cost. Considering the current state of the economy, many contractors are hungry for work and willing to cut their profit margins.
A bond is like a loan. The Township pays an initial down payment followed by annual debt service payments to pay for the principal and interest. Because of Springfield’s remarkable credit, we can benefit from extremely low interest rates. This bond will not result in a $3.4 million change to the 2012 municipal budget affecting municipal taxes. To get an understanding of the bond implications, a debt repayment schedule has been prepared assuming a principal of $3.4 million over a payback period of 15 years at an interest rate of 2.5 percent. The impact to an average assessment of $155,000 is $39.00 a year. [http://zszs.us/xoNYzs]
The Township must appropriate $162,000 for the down payment of the bond in the 2012 operating budget. The Township Administration is considering several cost-saving measures to offset the down payment and minimize the impact to taxpayers. Not even two months into the new year and we’ve discovered nearly $100,000 in savings opportunities.
This project represents a true community collaborative effort and a public-private partnership. The Springfield Athletic Turf Foundation has already committed the fruits of their private fundraising to contribute towards the down payment.
The Board of Education spends nearly $100,000 annually on field maintenance and thousands of dollars to rent fields elsewhere for our student athletes. This is taxpayer money being spent instead of being invested. That money can be saved and reallocated towards a home field. Additionally, the Board of Education has committed the proceeds to be generated from the sale of land reasonably expected to be between half a million to a million dollars. After the sale, that money will further reduce the amount to be borrowed through bonding. There is the added benefit of the new ratables and the annual tax revenue to be raised in perpetuity that will add to the municipal coffers.
The athletic turf field complex offers several sponsorship opportunities to raise more money. Businesses and brands can bid to advertise and for various naming rights.
Environmental & Safety Considerations
Any reasonable person should be concerned about the environmental impact of an athletic turf field, especially in Springfield. The Springfield Township Committee and I are dedicated to minimizing any negative consequences of an athletic turf field. We care about our environmental and most importantly, our actions in the development of the turf field will prove it. Scrutiny is expected and oversight is necessary. Watchdog groups and environmentalists are welcome to monitor this project and validate their conclusions with proven science and studies.
Unfortunately, Springfield’s Environmental Commission does not have the resources to perform their fiduciary duties objectively and responsibly with the scientific studies required for a project of this magnitude. While individual volunteer members of the Commission have made arbitrary statements, they do not represent the official position of the Environmental Commission. Some members, like Denise DeVone and Alyson Miller, provide exaggerated and hypothetical assumptions about the project without any factual basis and then refute those claims. For example, they scare the public about “rubber pellets” used in some synthetic turf fields. As mentioned repeatedly by the Township Committee and the Board of Education, the specifications have not been drafted so it is not responsible to incite panic about conditions that don’t actually exit. A February 2010 Study prepared by the University of California, Berkeley demonstrates the rubber used in artificial turf is safe. [“Review of the Impacts of Crumb Rubber in Artificial Turf Applications” - http://zszs.us/AlbHBq] Preying on the public by evoking fear about flooding is also detrimental to the discussion as they have not even considered the effectiveness of some turf field surfaces for stormwater management. In Maryland, a June 2011 study was completed in response to the Maryland Stormwater Management Act of 2007 that found FieldTurf Artificial Turf was effective for the management of stormwater. [“Effectiveness of FieldTurf Artificial Turf for Management of Stormwater” - http://zszs.us/x8R7Ck]
In fact, the Springfield Environmental Commission has not formally evaluated the project to be able to draw any conclusions because the only item available for consideration is a bond ordinance, something not within their purview. When the time comes to prepare technical documentation, the Springfield Environmental Commission will be called upon for their input. On the other hand, the Ridgewood Environmental Advisory Committee conducted themselves with the utmost professionalism and undertook the task of forming a sub-committee to conduct a 10-month assessment of environmental, health and human safety concerns related to their synthetic turf surface at Maple Park that was constructed in 2006. The report was finalized in 2009 and some conclusions even promoted the turf field. [http://zszs.us/w46qqq]
The Township Committee has gone to great lengths to research and investigate the environmental and human health concerns. What has been found are countless recent studies backed up with science that offer more than enough support for the project. The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission concluded that synthetic turf fields are OK to install and OK to play on. [http://zszs.us/yltXDK] The report, “A Scoping-Level Field Monitoring Study of Synthetic Turf Fields and Playgrounds” by the United States Environmental Protection Agency lends additional support. [http://zszs.us/y7LsN0]
As anyone who has lived in Springfield for even just a short amount of time knows, we are easily prone to flooding. No one wants to contribute to that flooding. Regardless, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has very strict regulations that apply in this case and that is part of the reason why the cost of this project is so high. Our professionals must go to great lengths to mitigate any negative impact to the floodplain and offset the effects of the turf field so the estimate accounts for an elaborate drainage system and detention basin. We would not be allowed to ignore any environmental effects and walk away without addressing them – we’re already prepared to deal with them.
If the concern is warranted or justified then it should be raised when our student athletes are already playing on dozens of turf fields in other municipalities. Ironically, these opponents have not been vocal before when their children are playing on turf fields elsewhere. This begs the question, “What ulterior motives are behind this fear mongering and hysteria?”
The following is a comprehensive list of studies carried out by numerous government agencies that go above and beyond to provide a much-needed comfort level before deciding to proceed with the project:
- Artificial Turf Facts: Understanding the Issues - http://zszs.us/weCqzt
- California Environmental Protection Agency Report on MRSA - http://zszs.us/wo8H8z
- Review of the Human Health & Exposure to Recycled Tire Rubber - http://zszs.us/xxIqcm
- Evaluation of the Environmental Effects of Synthetic Turf Athletic Fields - http://zszs.us/wgIXWn
- Artificial Turf Dangers - http://zszs.us/zIQF9L
- Connecticut Department of Public Health Fact Sheet - http://zszs.us/z1V6Nw
Some people still may have doubts and challenge the Township Committee to look at alternatives to this project. It’s already been done!
We would love nothing more than to be able to use the field at the Union County Meisel Avenue Park. Unfortunately, the field needs a lot more work and the County has rejected all of these requests. This is hardly unsurprising or atypical. I personally met with members of the County, to include their Freeholders and professional staff, and they’ve balked at the idea of reaching a compromise with Springfield that would provide a field we can use. Over five years later, we’re still waiting on the County to provide the filtration system they promised for the pond at Meisel Avenue Park. They sternly disapproved our requests to use their taxpayer-funded bleachers that are in storage. At this point, it’s hopeless to think they’d work with us on this project. Furthermore, this is a County-owned field and adequate usage is part of the problem. For the volume of programming, the County field cannot meet the demand of Springfield in addition to the demand by the general public that also has access to the field. Springfield needs its own field and we have no choice but to be able to stand on our own.
Much of the debate surrounding turf fields is fueled by competing industries – synthetic vs. natural grass. While natural grass has an appeal, given the geography of Springfield, we will confront the same engineering challenges to provide natural grass fields that will drain properly. Natural grass fields will also need specialized and meticulous maintenance to meet the increasing usage demands. In the long run, there is no compelling financial justification to avoid a quality turf field.
Opponents question the legislative and financial need for the project arguing there are more deserving capital projects, including, but not limited to, flooding and the downtown. The Township Committee has established goals for 2012 that will deal with the flooding problems and we already have capital projects in the works to tackle flooding issues within our jurisdiction. As a matter of fact, the Township Committee Agenda for Tuesday, February 14, 2012 includes Resolution 2012-44 to award a professional services contract to Pennoni Associates for design plans, specifications and for obtaining required permits for a stream cleaning project between Alvin Playground and Marion Avenue and Resolution 2012-45 to award a professional services contract to Pennoni Associates for design plans, specifications and for obtaining required permits for the Washington Avenue Dike Restoration Project. The bigger projects that will provide the most substantive relief cannot be done by Springfield unilaterally because they have a regional impact. The downtown is finally being addressed thanks to the Downtown Springfield Business Improvement District. This organization of property owners, businesses owners, residents and Township officials is determined to revitalizing the downtown once and for all. Instead of lifeless plans sitting on a shelf, this group is dedicating time and money to real change. At our January 24th meeting, the Township Committee voted to introduce the Springfield Community Partnership 2012 Budget in the amount of $400,961.90. This is money coming directly from commercial properties (not residential taxes) to improve downtown Springfield.
Finally, some residents insist this project should be submitted to the voters in November as a public question on the ballot. This will only further delay a project that has been moving slowly for years and with the prospects of a different composition on the Township Committee following the election, 2013 will pose new challenges under a new administration with different priorities. A referendum is not required by the Township Committee or by law. Bonding is within the authority of the Township Committee and the members of the Committee are duly elected representatives of the public. Every year, the Township undertakes capital infrastructure improvements that are bonded with total costs in the millions without a referendum vote and without controversy. This particular project in the ballpark of $3 million is far below the nearly $28 million operating budget that the Township Committee adopts every year, also without a referendum. I am happy to entertain that idea if you can substantiate the necessity for a referendum. Why put this matter to a referendum and no others? If we put this to a referendum, why stop there and not put others to a referendum? If we are to conduct a referendum on these matters, what is the point of an elected Township Committee if we defer everything substantive to a referendum? Finally, a referendum on this project would not yield a productive result – a “yes” or “no” answer does not help. The deliberations are best held at a public hearing like a Township Committee meeting.
The Springfield Township Committee has long been dominated by one political party – the “Springfield Democratic Party”. Up until 2010, they held the majority of seats on the Township Committee and as a result Springfield lay stagnant with no progress. Since 2009, the “Springfield Democratic Party” toyed with voters and promised a turf field but took no steps towards that end. Several times, the Springfield Democratic Party promised to:
- “Get Springfield athletes a turf field and upgrade & renovate existing fields” [http://zszs.us/xCD3rJ]
- “Allocate funds … and get Springfield athletes a turf field” [http://zszs.us/x9k6ct]
Countless times, the “Springfield Democratic Party” bragged about having “awarded two contracts for engineering work” [http://zszs.us/wi3y9C] towards a turf sports field. Committeeman David Amlen and Committeeman Richard Huber, the two opponents of the turf field project in 2012, and the “Springfield Democratic Party” boasted about their involvement in 2011 in having “taken the first necessary steps to create a new multi-sports field by contracting an engineering firm, applying for the NJ DEP for permits.” [http://zszs.us/yRJA5D]
The website of the “Springfield Democratic Party” proudly announced their “commitment to Springfield recreation and building the new field at the High School” and of their efforts “towards making a field at Dayton High School a reality.” [http://www.springfieldnjdems.org/news]
On September 27, 2011, the “Springfield Democratic Party” sent out an e-mail on behalf of Hugh Keffer that said they “spent months working with local engineering firms, the NJ Department of Environmental Protection and Union County to make sure that we build the field in a legal, appropriate and environmentally responsible way.” Furthermore, the “Springfield Democratic Party” spoke of the commitment “to developing this project and seeing it through to completion.” Additionally, the e-mail said, “Having a modern field for our students not only encourages sports and recreation but also speaks volumes for our town and property values.” In fact, they employed a pre-election tactic of spending nearly $40,000 to prepare engineering plans and permit submissions. [http://zszs.us/xBdusP]
Now five months later, after the Springfield Democratic Party lost control, they sent out an e-mail on February 10, 2012 suddenly opposing the project and conjuring obstacles that didn’t exist while they were supposedly spearheading it. They’re engaging in petty fear mongering and scare tactics to halt progress at the detriment of our community. They raise financial, environmental and safety concerns in an e-mail days before a vote, but didn’t bother to get the information made readily-available to them while they were at the helm of the Township and while Committeemen David Amlen and Richard Huber served on the Township Committee for over a year. Either they neglected their responsibilities to do their homework on the issues or they lied about the studies and months of work they claimed to do. [http://zszs.us/wNi22z] I personally e-mailed Committeeman Huber weeks ago to provide him with any information he wanted but he didn’t take advantage of the offer. [http://zszs.us/zH5P2U] Committeemen Amlen and Huber have had plenty of time and opportunities to raise their concerns, ask questions, get answers or advocate a different approach. At countless meetings with the Board of Education last year and at weekly Township Committee meetings in 2011, they misled the public and withheld any reservations they are now claiming to have.
These political games must end. Many Springfield Democrats feel betrayed and misrepresented by this so-called “Springfield Democratic Party” that attempts to speak on their behalf with no authority or support. Their latest e-mail shows how dishonorable the “Springfield Democratic Party” really is by sending it out without a name or signature so no one can hold them accountable or challenge them to justify their statements. Until someone steps forward, it should be safe to assume that their self-proclaimed “Chairman," David Barnett and Committeeman David Amlen and Richard Huber are responsible for the contents.
The time is now! Enough excuses and enough stalling. When it is politically convenient, candidates tout their support for the project. These last minute games are very transparent. We owe it the taxpayers to give them open government that will effectively represent them. The case for a turf field is clear. Put the party politics aside and join me in a monumental initiative that will be pivotal in the transformation of Springfield!