Proposed Field House Debate Raises Even More Questions
Concerns about a field house's costs to exclusivity swirl as the school board and public press for more information on a field house in memory of Nick Brandemarti, a township resident who died in the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
A large crowd gathered at the West Deptford Board of Education meeting on Monday night sought to have some of their questions answered about a proposed field house donation for the high school's football team.
In January, a community group led by former soccer coach John Cobb and former board of education member Edward Houghton proposed donating a field house for the football team to the school district. The field house would be named after Nick Brandemarti Jr., a West Deptford High School alumnus and football player who died at the World Trade Center in the 9/11 attacks.
Since the initial meeting, the proposal has ignited a firestorm of questions from the board of education as well as local residents.
Brian Gotchel, the chairman for the property, buildings and transportation committee for the school board, brought a list of answers Monday to frequently asked questions posed by his fellow board members. However, not everyone was satisfied with the answers that the community group had.
Some of the big questions involved the costs of the building, including utilities and maintenance, after it's finished. Gotchel gave ballpark answers, saying electric and gas would cost $4,000-$5,000 annually, and maintenance would cost about $4,200 at the very most.
An alarm was raised by a few board members, such as Ginny Brockway and Kate Cargill, over the vagueness of some of the answers and how many of the dollar figures and what the community group would cover in the construction isn't in writing.
“Most of my questions haven't been answered,” Brockway said to Gotchel. “I'm not comfortable going forward without something in writing.”
“I'm not voting on things that don't have numbers attached to them,” Cargill said in agreement with Brockway.
Board President Christopher Strano implored the rest of the board to provide more details about what they wanted to hear from the community group.
“Get specific with your questions,” Strano said. “This is coming to a resolution.”
Some members of the public also shared the same feelings when it came to the cost of the building.
Mike Crowley spoke for more than 20 minutes to the board. As a contractor and having worked in construction, he said that the estimates on the construction and maintenance of the building sounded way off.
“The cost projections are unrealistic,” Crowley said. “They haven't taken into consideration all of the engineering and facilities required.”
With budget cuts being made in advance of the passage of a final budget for the 2013-14 school year later this month, some were unhappy when board member Peter Guzzetti stated that the annual cost of utilities for the field house would be “insignificant,” especially after a similar amount was slashed from curriculum in the upcoming budget.
“If $5,000 is significant for technology, how is it insignificant for gas and electric?” Michelle Hack, also the recording secretary for the township zoning and planning board, asked.
“Five thousand dollars they're cutting in curriculum,” Crowley said, “but they want to add cost for an ancillary building.”
Aside from money, the biggest question was about making the field house multi-use and not football specific. Strano said every board member had that question listed in the questions sent to the community group. Gotchel said that the community group, in their proposal, said the field house will be football-specific and not for other sports.
Board member Lisa Eckley was the biggest voice on the board in support of making the field house available for all athletic teams. By making the field house available only to football, it only benefits 10-11 percent of the high school student population, she said.
“Are we doing the greatest good for the greatest number of students?” Eckley asked her fellow board members.
The issue also brought up a huge concern that the school district could be open to Title IX violations. Strano said the school district is currently discussing with their solicitor whether they would be in violation by building a football-only building.
Michael McManamy, the chairman of West Deptford's zoning and planning board, also brought forward another issue that appeared to be overlooked. When the board said the proposal had only a facility and bathroom for the football team and therefore, only for men, McMamany stated that it would be in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which states that men and women must have an equal amount of bathrooms.
Superintendent Kevin Kitchenman responded that the proposal was created by the community group and the school district would make sure the building would comply with all laws, building codes and inspections if it is constructed.
Brandemarti family's involvement
In an effort to clear up some misconceptions with the project, Nick Brandemarti's brother, Jason, made an appearance at Monday's meeting to explain that the community group proposing the field house and the scholarship fund named after Nick are completely separate. He said that his family is not involved with the field house proposal in any way.
Jason also went on to say that his family thought the field house would be a good idea because it would give something that the whole community could rally around.
“Football is a lot more than just 80 kids,” he said. “It's something that brings a community together.”
Monday's meeting showed a clear divide between members of the board as well as members of the community. It was something that seemed to bother Jason, who doesn't want his brother's name attached to a proposal that has West Deptford residents angry or upset.
As for the actual proposed field house, discussions are sure to continue, though Strano hinted that the issue will move forward quicker once the school budget is finalized in a few weeks. He said the proposal will likely go to vote at a meeting in the near future, stating the school board has other important work to deal with going forward.
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