A free-wheeling conversation about the physical plant at West Deptford High School (WDHS) touched on topics including how to improve security at its main entrance, the elimination of the space occupied by its library, and the possibility of installing artificial turf on the football field.
Although preliminary, the talks offered insight into the nature and scope of improvements necessary to improve conditions at the facilities, and in what order the issues identified might be resolved.
The nearly two-hour tour began at the gates to the WDHS football stadium.
Exterior facilities improvements at the stadium included the possible replacement of an outside sewage station by the tennis courts that contractors say is too dangerous to fix due to possible flooding issues, and re-grading and re-draining the practice fields, including the area used by the band.
The home side of the football bleachers must also be replaced.
“No other school has bleachers like this,” engineer Annina Hogan told the school board members. “The JIF (Joint Insurance Fund) has insisted on replacing bleachers like this everywhere else.”
Hogan added that she was surprised that use of the stadium is still permitted. The home side of the WDHS bleachers have multiple gaps that are wider than the standard four inches despite an update to the visitor-side bleachers two years ago, board members said.
“They were in really bad shape,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kevin Kitchenman said, adding that it was also cheaper to have the visitor side repaired.
Any repairs made to the bleachers also would include an upgrade to the press box.
Artificial turf on the way?
The football field also drains poorly, Kitchenman said. The middle of the field gets completely soggy while grounds crews essentially wait for water to evaporate.
French drains surround the field, according to Facilities Director Myron Hall, but they don’t affect the middle of the field, and during excessive rainfall, the effect is ruinous, Kitchenman said.
The options are to replace the drainage system under the field at a projected cost of about $562,000, or to replace the grass field with artificial turf.
The initial cost to install the turf, including all preparations, is about $1 million, according to Hogan and Hall, and a turf field would need replacing every 10 years at a cost of about $300,000-400,000, said Joe Manahan, a West Deptford resident and facilities expert invited along on the tour.
Hall emphasized that a turf field could be used by the football, field hockey, lacrosse and soccer teams.
Although no team that has requested to use the current football field has been denied, the field hockey team prefers to play on its own field at this point, he said.
Hall believed all teams would prefer to play on an artificial surface, and also said the amount of man-hours needed to maintain the field would be trimmed, which would also save the district the cost of overtime pay.
The track at WDHS must also be re-sprayed, and minor repairs are also needed. Improvements to the outdoor restrooms there were discussed briefly.
None of the athletic improvements is eligible for state funding, according to Hogan.
BOE President Chris Strano described how the Sandy Hook Elementary School forced the district to "go out and take a serious look at things from a safety standpoint.
“Many of these buildings are 50 years old,” he said.
Numerous possibilities for reconfiguring the main entrance to the high school were discussed, including double doors and a “cattle chute” that would lead those entering the school directly into its main office.
The board also discussed the possible replacement of the fence surrounding the perimeter of the school.
Inside the high school, the BOE discussed the need to fix ceilings, replace the gymnasium floor, the stage in the auditorium, the cafeteria floors and doors throughout the building.
The science classrooms and labs need renovating, and there are currently seven total rooms for nine science teachers in the high school. The district might explore building an additional classroom or converting one classroom into a double lab.
When the board visited the library to discuss refinishing, Strano questioned the need for the school to even maintain a library.
“The town has a great public library and there’s a lot of space here,” Strano said.
He added that when the district discusses adding classrooms for one reason or another, it should look to repurposing the library space first.
Hogan said, however, that districts are mandated to have libraries and media centers, and Kitchenman said that the space serves as a study hall nearly every period and is home to the yearbook club.
Although the school district has a 1:1 student-to-laptop ratio, it is not currently purchasing e-books for those laptops.