CHATHAM–The school board debated this week whether new athletic field lights should be part of the district’s proposed capital project. Board members plan to make the final decision about the scope of the project in late November, with the plan placed before voters January 12.
At the Tuesday, October 27, meeting, the board also formally appointed John Thorsen co-principal of Chatham High School. Mr. Thorsen has been acting as co-principal with Ron Davis since the beginning of the year. The appointment is probationary and there is no change in his current salary.
And board members also heard from the Fine Arts Booster Club, which has proposed that the district become part of the National Art and Music Honor Societies. Representatives from the booster club said that this would be another way to support and recognize the work of students in the arts. The board had questions about the national standards set by the honor societies and will discuss the proposal with the booster club at a future meeting.
The board is proposing a $5 million capital project paid for with federal economic stimulus funds and district capital reserve funds; the combined funds would mean the project would have no impact on the district tax burden. Originally the board hoped to adopt a motion to have a public vote on the project in December, but schools Superintendent Cheryl Nuciforo said that board members still had too many questions about the project for them to vote on the language in the referendum this month.
The major sticking point for many board members is the proposal for new football field lights. Ms. Nuciforo said that one new pole would cost $80,000. Though replacing all the light poles and lights would cost $600,000, Ms. Nuciforo reminded board members that state aid would cover half the cost of the project. She said the current lights are about 36 years old and not energy efficient, and the poles “are not unsafe but could be safer,” a reference to the wiring that hangs from the poles. And while she acknowledged the new lights are a “big ticket item,” she emphasized that “we have the opportunity to do it with no tax impact.”
Many board members felt that it was a tough proposal to approve in this economy. Several members supported Ms. Nuciforo’s suggestion that the board make the athletic field lights a separate proposition, with taxpayers voting on the $600,000 capital project improvements to all the buildings as one proposition and the lights as another.
Board Vice President Elizabeth MacFarlane was among the board members on the fence about supporting the lights. “If the community wants to support [the new lights], I would,” she said of having district residents vote specifically on the lights.
Board president John Wapner was one of the few board members who opposed including the lights in the project. He said that voters needed to know that support for the lights meant spending money that the district would not have later when that money may be needed. “I’m not sure there aren’t a lot of structural things that need work,” he said, adding, “I’d rather have the $300,000 in fund.”
Dr. Wapner said the district should explore sharing services with the town, finding a way to share the cost of games with other community sports groups. He also said that the proposed capital project should focus on educational issues. “I don’t see [the lights] as a… 21st century educational goal,” he said.
“If we don’t do it now we will probably never do it,” said board member Denise Dapice.
By the end of the discussion a majority of board members felt that new lights are important enough to the district to place a separate lights proposition on the ballot for referendum.
Debate will continue at the next board workshop meeting on Tuesday, November 10, at 6:30 p.m. in the high school library.