The Board of Education has agreed to contribute $250,000 and enter into a 10-year agreement with the Township of Middletown that calls for shared services in the operation of athletic fields both on school board property and on township property.
The interlocal agreement came as a surprise to some of the 75 members of public in attendance at its meeting Wednesday night at Middletown High School North. It passed at 11:30 p.m., by a 6-3 tally.
"The opportunity has presented itself, and it's too good to pass up," said Board President Chris Aveta, in acknowledging the concerns some members raised about the board's financial priorities. "Personally I think this is a good decision for the district."
Board attorney Christopher Parton described the agreement, which he said will become a public document after a sign-off from the majority on the five-member municipal Township Committee at its next public meeting.
"The specific new idea in this agreement is that the township will agree to construct two new fields -- possibly three new fields, but the guarantee is for two," said Parton.
The fields will be artificial turf, multi-purpose fields, unless issues such as grading, environmental issues or other problems necessitate natural turf fields, he said.
One of the fields will be on the south part of Middletown, and the other one north of Route 35. The tentative location is Thompson Middle School, and the north one could be Thorne or Harmony, but nothing is definite, he said.
In consideration for the township undertaking all of the costs associated with the fields, such as the bidding, architecture, engineering and construction of the two fields, the township would get a contribution from the Board of Education for $250,000 by June 30, 2014. The money would come from reallocation of funds in the current or next year's budget.
The board would retain all priority of use in its own fields, and the way the board shares its field would remain the same.
Parton alluded to "prior negative experience" in turf field construction in the district and noted there will be legal language in the agreement to avoid repeating history. "Some of the people who have made messes in this town would not be eligible to do any of this work," he said.
Bleachers, bathrooms, concession stands and lights are possible down the road, but are not presently part of this agreement. Should the township decide to fund those "extras" they would require the agreement of the school board first.
And if the board decides to add anything, they would need only notice the township. Permission is not required because it is school property, the attorney said.
Construction is expected to begin in the summertime.
The fields would be open to all sports, and all public and private school organizations.
The usage and maintenance of the high school turf fields are not affected by the agreement. They remain in the exclusive control, permitting and funding of the Board of Education.
The plan is a result of a October 22 Board resolution establishing its desire to enter into a shared service agreement with the township for the purpose of improving athletic fields. (To read the resolution, see PDF attachment.)
Board member Vincent Brand pointed out how important sports are to a child's rounded education, and how scholarships are offered to the best student-athletes, and that high-quality fields can generate revenue. Member James Cody said the district spent $3.1 million of its own money to fund the two high school fields, and by comparison, a $250,000 contribution was "a no-brainer." Member Ernest Donnelly said that some township fields are "a disgrace" and the agreement would benefit all the children of Middletown.
But three members did not vote for the agreement. New member John Bennett said the board needed to consider student welfare and academics first. Vice President Joan Minnues suggested the $250,000 should be a referendum question. Susan Griffin also voted not to participate in the agreement with the township.