MAPLEWOOD, NJ — SOMA athletes and their families say they are frustrated that a project to re-turf Underhill Field is delayed by as many as four years, even though funding is secure.
Glenn Minerley, representing the MAPSO Recreational Fields Taskforce, asked members of the South Orange Maplewood Board of Education on Monday night to push up the project, saying conditions are unsafe.
The $1 million earmarked to re-turf the field were included in the capital infrastructure bond passed in 2019. Minerley said the task force rallied to get the project included and recently learned construction was slated for potentially 2025. He said no new money is needed and the board should get the project done this summer.
The artificial turf on the field now is “well past its 10-11 year expected life cycle,” said Minerley, father of sixth and ninth graders who play football and lacrosse, among other sports. He said varsity field hockey matches had to be canceled in the 2019-2020 school year because a visiting Livingston team refused to play on the field, citing conditions. The turf fibers are fast decaying and parents are complaining on social media that the turf is shedding and threadbare, Minerley said.
“An injury will occur on this field due to its poor condition and a negligence suit will be filed. It’s simply inevitable,” Minerley told board members during open comment.
Superintendent Dr. Ronald Taylor, responding later, said although funding is approved, the process can be lengthy. Architect drawings must be shared, the board must approve them and ultimately the state must approve the plan before bids are even put out to complete the work. He also said conducting the work gets complicated because there are not many months when the field isn’t in use, given fall sports and summer training.
Taylor said he has reached out to the architects to see if they can expedite the plans and get the process going.
“We have reached out to ascertain if that will be possible, but we think the timeline will be too tight with the approvals,” he said.
Minerley said in response that the board should look at the state of the field as if it were a broken water main or boiler. The field shouldn’t need architectural plans, he said, just enough bids to get the work done.
“It’s broken, and it needs to be replaced,” he said, adding: “The task force would be happy to support the administration in identifying vendors that can competitively bid and get the job done this summer.”
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