BERNARDS TOWNSHIP, NJ - Some progress was made Monday night toward a possible solution that would allow runners quicker access to the Ridge High School track following winter snowstorms.
Bernards Township school board members, in a straw vote, authorized the administration to see what could be done on a maximum $20,000 budget. It would likely entail buying some sort of snow blower and as much custom-fitted covering as possible, given cost constraints, to allow for a test of effectiveness.
A covering would be laid down when the weather forecast predicted significant snow. Covering and clearing would give students faster access to the track, and would have the benefit of protecting the running surface from pits and gouges from well-meaning, but imprecise, student snow-shovelers.
The board is looking to balance goals: Allow athletes a place to practice during the winter snowstorms while protecting the investment in a relatively new track and turf field. The six-lane track was replaced in 2017 at a cost of about $330,000. Artificial playing surface turf for Lee Field was replaced in the summer of 2015 at a cost of about $300,000.
The board spent more than 40 minutes Monday discussing the issue, more time than everything else on the agenda combined. Six of the nine members raised hands to agree to go ahead with research on what could be bought for $20,000. Two members abstained, citing conflicts. Member Michael Byrne seemed to be opposed, saying at one point he’d rather see the money spent on academics.
A custom-fit covering for the whole track might cost about $14,000 to $15,000, administrators said. A Gator-type tractor with snow blower, which would be used once the tarp was down, might carry a price tag of about $12,000.
The superintendent said in March the running track and runway areas for jumps were of a rubberized, granular surface that shouldn’t be scraped or have anything dragged on them. He said Monday the school also had to think of other consequences, like oil or gasoline spills on the track and whether drains could withstand the weight of equipment.
Board members said in August they would want student or booster clubs to contribute to the cost, but apportioning responsibility to various groups was a complication. Monday’s discussion seemed to indicate the school would take full ownership.
Superintendent Nick Markarian said a snow blower could also be used on sidewalks and pavement on other parts of the campus, mitigating the cost impact. Byrne asked if they could calculate how many days a year the covering would be put down and need to be cleared. Vice President Karen Gray said purchase of a covering and snow blower would raise expectations that the work would be done immediately following a storm, and wondered if there was staff and money to cover that. Markarian said clearing the track would come after making the building and walkways ready for classes.
Any test would have to account for different types of storms, from slush and ice to fluffy powder.
The discussion centered on the running track, although it occasionally veered into covering and clearing the entire athletic field. That would entail other complications, like sucking or moving around the pellets embedded with the grass-like fibers to provide cushioning and traction.
Nathalie Kirkwood, a representative of the lacrosse boosters, said in the public comment period that her group didn’t have thousands of dollars to contribute to a field covering.
No meeting has been held with the Ridge Runners track booster group, said representative Beth Sargen on Monday. She said at the last meeting that the club had bought plastic snow shovels for students, who were still willing to get out there and do the work to clear the track, she said.
More than 100 high school students attended a school board meeting in late March in a show of unanimity over access to the running track and turf field. Track and field athletes, anxious to start training in earnest after an unusual March 21 storm, had been reported shoveling snow off the track; when administrators learned about it, the work was stopped.
Track and field is one of the largest sports team at the school, and winter and spring programs have won numerous state and national honors.