SPARTA, NJ – Community members turned out to hear a presentation about the turf field project proposed for Cassel’s Field at Sparta High School.  Approximately 70 people were in the auditorium at Mohawk Avenue School on Wednesday night to hear details of a project that has been discussed for nearly 10 years.

Superintendent Michael Rossi said the field will accommodate physical education classes, marching band, field hockey, football, boys and girls lacrosse, boys and girls soccer.  He said it will be completed in time for fall sports in 2019.

Architect Gregory Somjen of Parette Jomjen Architects said “I forgot to bring that paper,” when asked about the cost but added “My recollection is a little more than $3 million.”

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 The money is coming from the districts capital projects account and will not go to referendum or require the sale of bonds.

Rossi introduced the project explaining it had been in the works before he joined Sparta.  An ad hoc committee had “explored several options that predate me.” The previous ad hoc committee had included representatives from within the district and board of education as well as members of the community.

Rossi’s ad hoc committee was pared down to a few administrators and board of education members.  Rossi said they finally decided on putting turf on Cassel’s field, “deemed the best location,” and have been “working on getting all of the approvals which took the better part of a year,” according to Rossi.

He said the project went to “the DEP, Planning Board, updates at board of education meetings, coaches, the athletic director making sure those who were going to use the field got what they needed.” Rossi added during the design and permit phase they had “ongoing meetings with  officials from the county, state and local levels.”

“We have the designs and the permits,” Rossi said.

Rossi said the project was part of the district’s “multi-year long range facilities plan and was the last component from the previous long range strategic plan.”

Rossi laid out the project specs and timeline.  Bid specifications should be completed by the district soon in order to have the project go out to bid in January or February of 2019. 

Bids should be awarded in March or April.  Construction to begin in April and completed by August. Somjen said the construction will not impact the school. 

In answer to questions raised by Beth Wells Rossi said graduation will either have to be held inside the high school, limiting the number of people who can watch, or they will “reach out to other high schools, tech and the county college,” to use their facilities.

 “Bid will be lump sum and by law we must take the lowest bid,” Somjen said.  “That doesn’t always mean we get the best contractors.”

The project, called a stadium by Rossi, is more than just plastic grass.  The scope of the project includes:

Lights, “which can be used until town curfew, allowing the field to be used 14 hours a day”

Fencing “my recommendation is to use an electronic gate like Warren Hills, opens at dawn and closes at dusk…my vision is that this is yours.”

ADA compliance modifications for home bleachers

New visitors’ bleachers, “the current bleachers will be repurposed around campus”

New scoreboard “to accommodate all sports”

New goals and netting

Drainage “so effective that the playing surfaces maintain their integrity”

Fiber optic connections “so we can record digitally” and to “hopefully accommodate video cameras on every light pole” according to Patrick McQueeney adding the “ability to stream events” according to Rossi

Access for emergency vehicles

The field will also be “a little bit wider, but not significantly,” according to Somjen.  The project has to fit within DEP restrictions “because it’s surrounded by wetlands.”

Somjen said the field will be “as wide as we could get it” and will be “regulation size for all sports.”

Snack shack, bathrooms and athletic training facilities will not be part of this project, the professionals explained to community member Jennifer Plotts. 

“This is Phase I, if you will,” Rossi said.  “We want to get started.  Bathrooms [are] a different process.  They won’t be there for the fall but are part of the plan.”

“We have added utilization,” Rossi said when asked why turf a field that is already a field by Christine Levine.  “It is essentially going to be open 12 months, 365 days when appropriate.” He pointed to Warren Hills and previous district Madison as examples.  “They can and are being used right now.”

“It will be a community resource,” Rossi said. “Use is extended tremendously.  Currently [the fields] are not able to be used by all of those groups and not with any weather event.”

Plotts also asked about snow removal and maintenance.  Rossi said “a groomer” is part of the purchase and that a “staff member is getting certified by Rutgers University for maintenance and management” of the turf.

Area resident Ed Maher asked about the plans to regulate traffic during construction. 

“It’s not going to be without inconvenience,” Rossi said.  “Safety is the first consideration and we have relationships with Sparta Police Department… It is something we will have to manage.”

Community members and board member Kim Bragg asked about health and safety concerns. 
“They are hotter and heat acclimatization in August is now an integral part of training,” Rossi said.

Bragg asked about specifications for the turf and fill material.  Rossi had provided packets of information about four studies on the topic. 

Somjen said they will be looking for “a hybrid filament grass component” and that the fill will be “SBR the most economical and readily available.” Somjen clarified SBR is primarily made from recycled tires.

“I’m interested in organic,” Bragg said referencing a fill “100 percent made from olive pits being used by many schools that doesn’t have the buoyancy issue of cork.”

She said she would like it included in the bid specs.  Board president Kelly McEvoy said it would have to be run by the ad hoc committee.

Somjen said he was not familiar with the produce and asked Bragg to forward any information she had. 

Bragg also asked about products such as Cool Play that help with the heat issue.  Somjen said there are many versions of that product “there is a decrease in temperature.”  He said, “We can look into incorporating it into the bid.”

As to a plan B in the event of construction delays, Rossi told Bragg the only sport affected would be football as the other sports could use the current field configuration.  The first football game is away.

Councilman and member of the township’s Emergency Management CERT team, Dave Smith asked if “it can accommodate a helicopter landing as Cassel’s Field is now one of the few such landing sites in the area.  Somjen said he would look into it.

Board member Kate Matteson asked about scheduling.  Rossi said games would be handled much as they are now with girls and boys scheduled home and away to avoid conflict.  Matteson said she was more concerned about practices.  Rossi said the grass fields will be lined and available for all sports to practice.

Several student athletes and community members came to the microphone to express appreciation for the project. 

McEvoy’s daughter Bailey Kellenberger spoke about the soccer team’s experiences with limited practice time.

Parent Anthony Caldi said, “I cannot tell you how pleased I am.  The town deserves this.”

Varsity lacrosse player Beth Levinson committed to play at Columbia University next year, said, “We had to practice in parking lots early in the season.” She attributed lack of field practice to a slow start to their season which has led to State Championships two years in a row.

Parent Natalie Takacs said she was “thankful for the kids.” An active volunteer, Takacs said the coaches and athletic department “have been fantastic to work with.”

“We shot for the moon,” McQueeney said.  In the end they brought the project down to $3.5 million as estimated by Rossi.

This is a project that has been discussed since 2008.  During the referendum to reconstruct the high school, the field was on the ballot as an optional question.  The voters approved the $72 million reconstruction but not the turf field.

At the end of the construction process, the board of education intended to use money left over from the referendum to construct a multi-sport turf field and an eight lane track behind the high school.  The bond counsel had confirmed that the money could be used in that way to repair or replace things damaged or lost during construction.  With the new footprint of the building and the required bog turtle habitat, the school lost five fields.

Before permit applications were even submitted, the Department of Education Office of Facilities in Trenton let Sparta know they would not allow the funds to be used for a turf field, despite other districts having recently done so. 

In 2012, the board of education put the question of a turf field to voters in another bond referendum.  Once again the single question of putting a field behind the high school was defeated by 159 votes. 

Sparta Township has two turf fields. The girls softball field at Ungerman and the newly installed multisport field at Station Park.  Installed last year, Field 3 with lights, bleachers, fencing and drainage cost taxpayers less than $1 million.

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