Vernon football field may need replacing during a time of tight budgets

Vernon. School board president Justin Annunziata said the district may face the choice of replacing the field, which is now past its life expectancy, or phasing out programs like football, marching band, track and field.

| 20 Oct 2020 | 11:41

The Vernon Township High School football field is older than its life expectancy, and the board of education is facing the need to replace it soon.

But with the reduction of state aid causing the district to watch every dollar it spends over the next several years, how to pay for a new field is an open question.

Replacing the field is expected to cost the district about $444,000.

The district’s auditor, Ray Sarinelli Jr. of Nisivoccia LLP, told the board of education at its Oct. 8 work session the district hadn’t spent all of its budgeted money for the 2019-20 school year, because of the COVID-19 lockdown that closed the school in March.

With that in mind, board of education members supported the idea of putting an extra $500,000 in the district’s capital reserve fund.

The field is 13 years old, but most turf fields only have a useful life expectancy of 10 years.

“At some point, that field will become unsafe to use,” said board president Justin Annunziata said at the work session. “We have programs – football, marching band, track and field – that utilize those fields, and with this opportunity to put funds into the capital reserve at this point, that’s an opportunity to pay for the turf field that will not be available in the foreseeable future due to our budget constraints.”

Annunziata said the district may face the choice of replacing the field or phasing out those programs.

“We have to recognize that we’re spending $444,000 on the field at a time when the budget is very tight,” he said.

School board member Mark Cilli said he didn’t see the issue as that black-and-white, but recognized that “the field is a central part of the district.”

Board of education member Brad Sparta said that, in the past, projects would come out of the district’s general budget.

“During our budget seasons in April, we would generally budget capital projects into our general budget and not capital reserves,” Sparta said.

Board member Kelly Mitchell advocated putting the money into the capital reserve fund and replacing the turf now.

“If we don’t do it now, we’re not going to have those funds to do it,” she said.

Other athletic facilities also need repairs. Business administrator Steve Kepnes said the tennis court has large cracks, but he does not have a quote on how much that would cost to replace.

Sparta asked about the track surrounding the football field, which was put in when the turf was laid down on the football field.

“The edges of the track are cracked,” Kepnes said. “I don’t know it’s life expectancy. It definitely needs some TLC, but I don’t know if the capital reserve fund can handle the turf field and the track.”

“At some point, that field will become unsafe to use.” — Justin Annunziata, school board president