Outdoor facilities plan presented to U-CF School Board
● By J. Chambless
By John Chambless
A study of possible improvements to
outdoor facilities at Unionville-Chadds Ford schools took up the bulk
of a marathon meeting of the school board on Sept. 17. The study, by
K&W Associates, outlines a long list of possible projects,
ranging from relatively simple and inexpensive fixes to new buildings
that would cost upwards of $1.5 million.
As word of the study has spread throughout the community over the summer, some residents have expressed concerns about the possible costs of implementing the changes, and several spoke at the beginning of the meeting.
Former school board member Holly Manzone said the outdoor facility study “is essentially a sales pitch. Sometimes you need to buy things, but I hope that when you are evaluating this proposal, that you'll bear in mind that there are dollar signs on these things.”
Referring to the controversy over the costs of the high school construction, Manzone said, “I think what came out of that is balancing wants versus needs. You did have a survey a couple of months ago that pretty convincingly showed that most of the stuff on this outdoor facility plan is not needed for education. This gets paid for by the taxpayers, who keep getting increases every year.”
Mark Stookey, a resident who has been vocal about his opposition to the proposal, told the board, “As you think about this, keep these points in mind. First, resources are limited, and money spent on sports fields is not available for other purposes. Taxpayers in this district are tapped out. Looking at the program that's in front of you, I can say that taxpayers will not respond favorably to at least three aspects of it. One, using taxpayer dollars to subsidize outside groups. Our facilitites are being overused by outside groups, so do we need to improve them or build new ones? That will not be well received. Second, demolishing six perfectly functional tennis courts so you can build eight new ones elsewhere will be very difficult to sell to taxpayers. And spending millions of dollars on artificial turf fields will not be well received. You all know public support is a valuable commodity for a school district. It's hard to earn and very easy to lose.”
Stookey's son Andrew, a former student at Unionville-Chadds Ford schools, said, “I've got nothing against athletics. However, I think the additional money being set aside for sports could be spent elsewhere with a greater positive effect.”
Stookey, who said he has Asperger's Syndrome, said, “I had help from the faculty, which lessened the serverity of the problem. There are a lot of resources that make a profound difference on a person's ability to participate in society, and I think Unionville-Chadds Ford could do more to provide these programs for students. The money the district is planning to spend on extracurricular activities could be put to better use by helping differently abled students prepare for the real world.”
Board member Gregg Lindner commented, “We're at the early stages of a process to look at the outdoor facilities. In total, I think we spent about $16,000 for the study and presentation by K&W. This is just a presentation. We're all going to talk about this. This process may take two months, and we're not going to move forward with anything, or it could take many years, which is the expectation I have. Within each year's funding process we go through, we'll discuss what we might want to do.”
Before a representative from K&W peresented the Power Point program, James Whitesel, the district's new supervisor of buildings and grounds, gave some background. “Back in May of 2017, it was suggested by the board that the administration hire a consultant to look at our facilities from a site and grounds aspect, and look for recommendations for work that we might consider in our long-range plan. The decision to do so shows good stewardship of our facilities. Tonight's presentation is about beginning to discuss ideas. It's a small piece of the long-range plan to maintain our facilities. As of now, none of this scope of work has been advanced to a project status, and all of these elements are in the conceptual level of planning.
“The unique thing about this plan is that there really is no set dollar amount,” Whitesel said. “Because the scope and priorities are yet to be determined by the board.”
At the Unionville Elementary School property, the plan suggests some innovative uses for the 20-plus acre property behind the building that is currently unused. The suggestions include enhancements and improvements to a nature study area, trails, and an outdoor classroom in the vicinity of the pond. Simpler projects include improving parking lot striping to make traffic flow clearer, and improving the fence around the ball field.
Each part of the plan was rated with a cost range, from under $100,000 to over $1.5 million. The aspects were also rated in regard to their impact on safety.
At the Unionville High School and Patton Middle School campus, the issues are more complex, encompassing parking and traffic flow issues, and the addition or improvement of fields and athletic facilities.
The K&W plan suggests a “spine road” that funnels traffic to separate parking areas for various sports, instead of the bottleneck that occurs when all incoming and departing traffic has to go through a single intersection.
At the high school, the plan suggests increased fencing and nets to control balls entering other athletic fields or adjacent roadways. Due to complaints about overcrowding at the school's six tennis courts, the plan suggests relocating the courts and adding two courts to a northern corner of the property on Route 82, north of the middle school, as well as a new parking area with access to Doe Run Road. The existing tennis courts would be replaced with a new access drive with connections to parking areas for separate sports areas. A pedestrian walkway and crosswalk would be added between the middle school and high school.
To help ease overcrowding of existing ball fields, the plan suggests an area where a new grass field could be built. The big-ticket item is a new stadium fieldhouse that would be used by several teams, and serve as a practice facility for other teams. The cost is estimated at more than $1.5 million by K&W. There is also a plan for a synthetic turf quad to accommodate baseball and softball teams, as well as the marching band and physical education classes.
The discussion after the presentation drilled down into some specifics. Board member Carolyn Daniels asked about projected enrollment of students to gauge the need for the expanded facilities, as well as how many teams are actually hindered by not having enough space to practice and play.
The issue of removing four tennis courts that were resurfaced last year, and moving the tennis complex with two additional courts, was addressed by the K&W representative, who said, “If the facilities are too split up [by adding two new courts elsewhere and keeping the existing four], you may not have the supervision to cover them,” he said. “There might be a single coach who has to run back and forth. It would depend on where those additional courts may happen. Right now, we're landlocked between the high school and middle school, where the courts are now. I'm not sure we could get an additional two courts anywhere near them so coaches could maintain supervision.”
Gregg Lindner said that some of the safety aspects of the proposal need to be implemented soon. “I've watched balls go over the junior varsity fence and hope they don't hit a runner on the track,” he said. “I take it there are other dollars in our budgets to take care of these safety issues. Some items I would like to see move forward sooner. They're necessary and needed, in my opinion. The JV is not moving anywhere – it's a correction that's taking place, so there's no wasted dollars. Then there's the band that also uses the facilities, and there are plenty of other groups that use them, too. Let's not think it's just for sports.”
Board president Jeff Hellrung noted that the marching band currently practices in the parking lot, meaning that cars need to be removed. “As we move forward, we're going to have to carefully vet each element of this,” he said. “As an example of the proposed new spine road for traffic flow, it was helpful for me to stand and watch the incoming flow in the morning. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Perhaps we could get a traffic engineer involved before we make any major expenditures. As each element, or any element, is implemented, we will have to sequentially study these issues. But I think this is a good start.”
Updated information on the district is available at www.ucfsd.org.
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.