U-CF School Board unveils proposed long-range facilities plan
● By J. Chambless
By John Chambless
Much of the Nov. 12 meeting of the
Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board centered on the district's
long-range facilities plan, which, although it's in an early stage,
has outlined spending some $12 million over four years.
A draft proposal of the plan was presented to the board by James Whitesel, the supervisor of buildings and grounds. “It's important to remember that nothing in this proposal is a done deal,” he told the board.
The outdoor facilities plan that was presented recently to the board outlined a possible total cost of about $10 million in improvements to the middle school/high school athletic facilities, but that plan has been scaled back considerably.
“For the first three years of this long-range plan, only two projects are listed from that outdoor facilities study,” Whitesel said. “They total about $500,000. And about $400,000 of that is dependent on whether we decide to install a double turf field in year four. The next two years are about maintaining and improving our existing facilities. We will continue discussions and see alternative designs.”
One aspect of the outdoor facilities plan that the board seems to favor is installing two artificial turf fields, preferably behind the middle school building.
Board president Jeff Hellrung said, “I'd like to comment in favor of the artificial turf fields. This kind of turf has proven itself. The usage of our fields is staggering. When you look at the long-range cost, although it's more expensive initially, these fields are less expensive to maintain. The teams can practice more, and there will be fewer cancellations and injuries.”
Board vice-president Victor Dupuis agreed. “I'm also in support of the turf fields,” he said. “I'm going to be an advocate for putting it behind the middle school. I would like to keep all the activities centered there. It's safer, more secure and more convenient.”
Board member Robert Sage commented about the long-range facilities plan, saying, “We've followed a good process from the start. We're not at the end, but we're taking the right steps to move forward. This was never about trying to find a way to spend money. This was about finding a way to make sure we have a plan, so that when needs arise, we have a blueprint to plug things into.
I also think the turf fields are a good investment for the district to make,” he said. “I do not see this as a cost reduction, though. I'm pretty confident that it's a net expense, but it's an improvement in quality we're trying to make. We'll continue to have that discussion over the next couple of years before we ever choose to spend the money in year four.”
During public comment at the beginning of the meeting, resident Holly Manzone thanked the board for the simplified athletic facilities proposal. “The outdoor facilities plan has been pared down to a more realistic and reasonable proposal,” she said. “I'm still not sold on those two artificial turf fields, but we do have a meeting next month to hear from citizens.”
Resident Mark Stookey also addressed the board, saying, “The outdoor facilities plan is much improved. Much more realistic. I still have some questions, but I appreciate everyone on the board listening. With respect to the double turf fields and the new tennis courts, one of the major justifications seems to be that everybody else has them. I don't think that's a very good justification. What we need to look at is what's needed for us. ... We need to understand how much we're gaining. What are the real economics here?
“As far as outside groups using the school fields, I've tried to get revenue information from the district for this, and I've been stonewalled. The public school act requires school districts to maintain financial information for six years, and you claim you don't have it. To me, that's unacceptable. ... I think the vast majority of the public does not believe it is appropriate for the school district to subsidize outside groups.”
Board member Gregg Lindner, in his comments at the end of the meeting, said, “I hear quite a bit from taxpayers who are looking for us to do more, with a knowlendge that it will raise their taxes. I hear more from that group than from those who are concenred about their taxes. … About outside groups using the fields -- if you try to schedule every available hour that URA Baseball might end up using the fields, the grand total would be about $4,000. What ends up happening is that days are rained out, coaches decide not to hold practices or whatever, so if you look at that, it's about $2,500 for URA Baseball in a given year. The dollars that come back to us through in-kind contributions from these community organizations for things such a scoreboard -- those organizations understand the need to provide dollars to the school district, and they do that willingly.”
During the meeting, the board also heard details about a company called Securly 24 that will improve the district's internet traffic monitoring. The company will improve record keeping with fewer errors than the district's current system. The proposal will be a voting item at the board's regular meeting next week.
The board also heard details of a traffic study proposal for the middle school/high school parking area. The proposal calls for Traffic Planning and Design to evaluate the traffic flow at peak times, morning and afternoon, and provide recommendations for improvements, if warranted. The company is also performing the upcoming crosswalk and traffic-calming work in front of the schools on Route 82. The cost for the additional study is $8,950.
Some board members asked if the study could also include the problem of visitors parking along Doe Run Road during peak times such as games, concerts and plays at the schools. People are crossing the road to get to the schools, and several board members thought the danger warranted an expanded study.
At the end of the three-hour meeting, Hellrung particularly thanked Whitesel for his work on the long-range plan. “You've got us in a good place,” he said. “We're not done, we'll make some other changes. Issues of traffic, tennis courts and so forth will be down the road.
“But about school district spending and taxation,” Hellrung added. “I recall a period in the '80s-'90s, a six-year period when the average spending increase from school boards was 12 percent for each of six years. In reaction, Act 1 passed in 2011, putting us on a budget. Since then, our average increase has been 2.5 percent or so.
“I just want to put some of that in context. We're still doing a good job of educationg our children, but we're holding the line on tax increases. The overall mission is to send educated, successful children out into society.”
Updated information, and videos of all board meetings, is available at www.ucfsd.org.
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email email@example.com.