WESTFIELD, NJ — Construction delays at Kehler Field may force the school district to bus athletes to surrounding towns for evening athletic practices this spring, a proposal that has drawn public concern.
Members of the Friends of Westfield Track & Field organization objected to the revised timeline for the Kehler Field updates during Tuesday’s school board meeting.
Renovations to the stadium were originally scheduled to begin May 1, 2018, and finish by the end of August, but a lawsuit from a competing bidder for the project delayed its start, school officials said.
The revised construction start date is March 1, 2019, adding two months to the project’s timeline and impacting spring sports.
“We have serious concerns about the proposed plan and believe it will have a detrimental impact on the academic and athletic welfare of our sons and daughters in track and field,” said Jim McCutcheon, president of the Friends of Westfield Track & Field organization.
The plan is to bus a portion of the 280 track and field athletes to surrounding facilities and schools in Union County, McCutcheon said.
“Once bussed to those locations, the Westfield team would need to wait until the host team had finished its practice before the Westfield team could begin its practice on the track,” he said. “Westfield may not finish its practice until 7 or 7:30 p.m. and get home as late as 8 o’clock.”
Compromised training, inadequate facilities, increased injuries, reduction in participation and disruption of study time and sleep were among the potential impacts, McCutcheon said, could result.
Citing the state’s School Ethics Act, he said board members must make decisions on the basis of children’s “educational welfare.”
“When I think of the adverse impact of bussing these kids and the one to two hours they’ll lose every night for the whole spring season and weigh that against opening the stadium on time, I think this is a guiding light,” he said.
McCutcheon argued the Track & Field program already sacrificed much by agreeing to surrender the track after the original May 1 start date, which is around the time when the more competitive athletes begin preparing for championship meets.
“Your points are valid,” said board member Charles Ostroff. “It’s going to be a balancing act, and not everybody is going to be happy.”