The Irvington Athletic Fields issue has been the subject of much debate over the last two years. After attending a seemingly endless series of meetings I am left with one unanswered question.
What is there left to debate? It seems that the community as a whole agree on more than we realize. After reading all the various comments and listening to all the arguments for and against the proposed turf field project, several indisputable conclusions can be drawn. Everyone agrees the fields are in desperate need of restoration. Most believe that the fields present an unsafe condition for our students to compete on. Everyone agrees that our children’s health and well-being is extremely important to our community. So we needed a solution to our most pressing problem in our schools today. Thus our current bond proposal was developed.
The school board along with various coaches, teachers, parents and community members, were given the task of developing the most cost efficient, fiscally responsible way to reconstruct our fields and make them usable and safe. Initial concerns revolved around the potential for light pollution issues and drainage issues. In response the project was scaled down and presented to the community. Although the drainage concerns continued to be debated, not one person concluded that the drainage would not improve under the current proposal. Clearly an approval of the plan would result in a drainage issue being addressed for fields which currently have little or no drainage. It would therefore seem logical that those who had drainage concerns should now support the proposal as it could only serve to benefit them.
The most recent concerns expressed have been an allocation-of-funds argument. The argument is that the money could be better spent on other needs, specifically — academics. Once again this is an area where all residents agree. Academics are vitally important. In fact, at virtually every school board meeting that I have attended, academics and academic excellence have been the primary focus. There are entire groups of very active parents and community members in attendance at these meetings who are very involved in expressing concern to our school board regarding academics. Moreover, in a recent presentation, our high school principal outlined how well our students have done. He detailed the various accomplishments of our students. We, as a community, should be extremely proud of our students and their accomplishments. In fact, I would surmise that there are very few residents who did not research the school’s reputation prior to moving to this community. I am also confident that most of our residents with children considered our outstanding academic programs as a major factor in moving to or remaining in Irvington. To argue that Irvington schools do not put academics as their first priority is simply not true. Therefore, as drainage and academics should not be prohibitive concerns, and we, as a community, unanimously believe the fields are in need of repair, then why shouldn’t the bond pass with ease?
Ultimately it appears to only be an issue of cost. To this end I believe the community is somewhat misinformed. The $5.5 million estimate for fields appears high to some in our community. However, the cost estimates are extremely conservative. The bond estimate must be conservative to ensure that the project can be completed for the amount sought in the bond. It does not mean the project will actually cost the amount being considered. Fundraising considerations have been undertaken and continue to be a major focus of the field enhancement project. Ultimately, even in the unlikely scenario where the 5.5 million dollar estimate is needed, the maximum cost to the average household will be $125 per year for fifteen years. This is a $10 per month tax increase. No one in this community would conclude that this is an overly burdensome increase. So why the hesitation to pass the bond?
It seems to be a line-in-the- sand approach. Once again, $10 a month cannot be the prohibitive factor. It must be that some in the community have decided that they will not support any further improvements for our schools as they are now feeling the effects of paying for the recent capital improvements. All of us are concerned about our tax increases over the past few years but this is not a zero-sum game. If the bond does not pass, the fields will be restored regardless, but at what price? The biggest misconception of the community is that if the bond doesn’t pass, there will be no additional increase in taxes. Simply not true. Regardless of the vote on December 20th, if the bond fails, the fields will have to be improved this year via an allocation from the capital budget in May. This will mean that our taxes will still increase in 2007, and the fields will be fixed temporarily. If the bond is defeated, a temporary solution will be the result, and like many temporary solutions, the fields will ultimately have to be completed in the near future for a cost that will be far greater than is being considered in this bond.
We are all in agreement that the fields need to be restored. We agree that our children should be safe and happy. We also agree that we should restore the fields at the most cost effective means as possible. As a community we agree on more than we are willing to recognize. Our school board, school administration and school faculty all believe the fields are a necessity. They, in conjunction with several expert engineers in lighting and drainage, have put forth the only proposal that can accomplish our goals as a community. Those who oppose the project have promoted no viable alternatives, and from them we have only heard concerns. The experts have been consulted to ensure the project is completed in the most environmentally sound and fiscally responsible way possible. This is our opportunity to enhance our school program at as minimal a cost as possible. We should all vote to pass the bond on December 20.
Michael E. Morley