Residents Concerned About Kinnelon Fields
Mayor said borough is doing all they can to solve fields problem.
The Kinnelon Council was put on the defensive on Thursday night as several members of the community complained about the poor conditions of borough fields and condemned the perceived lack of action on the part of the council to solve the issue.
Attached to the condition of exisiting fields was apparently longstanding belief that the council had been dragging its heels on also looking for ways to add new turf fields or have existing field converted to turf.
“I am here tonight to express my concern about the current field conditions,” said Bob Lewis, who runs the football program in town. “This year, we had the [referees] tell us that there will be no more home games unless we fix it. In the playoffs, we had to give up home field advantage. There are certain times when we played when it was unsafe to play.”
A small contingent of residents and athletic coaches, primarily representing football and lacrosse, said that they had forewarned for years that the fields were in poor shape and were essentially given lip service.
“Three years ago, it was ‘We’re looking into it,’ and ‘We’ll have discussions,’ and ‘We are exploring places based on open space,’” said resident Mehul Gadhavi. ” I don’t see progress anywhere. We need a definite plan.”
Councilman Jim Freda explained that he had been actively exploring the major considerations necessary to creating new fields - locating lands deemed as Open Space, which is governed by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), what lands might be sanctioned by New Jersey Highlands Council, perhaps converting the high school field to turf, or carving out a new turf field in the Kinnelon Recreation Park (KRP).
Freda, too, has been somewhat frustrated by the lack of action on the part of the council.
“We cannot continue to not make the decision to start to pursue turf and figure out if the DEP might let us do something,” Freda said. “Should I go to the board of education and see if we can use the high school field? We need to, as a council, aggressively start to come up with solutions. Dirt and grass seed is not working.”
But Mayor Robert Collins assured those concerned that the borough is doing all it can to understand its options.
“I don’t want you to walk away thinking it’s the same issue with no movement,” Collins told Gadhavi. “We’re doing everything we possibly can. We cannot have kids playing on fields that are unsafe.”
“I’m saying we have to decide on whether we are doing it,” Freda said. “If we are not doing it, I am not wasting my time.”
Present at the meeting was Larry Baskim, a construction contractor who builds fields for municipalities. Baskim said that he would build a new turf field for the borough for $400,000, or $300,000 from the town or private interest and $100,000 a donation from him.
“I think you are on the right track with using the high school field,” Baskim said. “The reason I say that is that I built at West Milford High School and they were exempt from all the Highlands regulations.”
“The high school is the only way to go,” said resident John Cavallo. “If this field can be built for $400,000, the council, the board of ed and the citizens of this community need to bond together to get that money raised.”
Mayor Collins agreed with the assessment that the high school would be the best option for a new field.
“Right now the board of education is considering a proposal on improving the track over there,” Collins said. “Well guess what, if you are going repair the track do the turf first because the argument is going to be that we just prepared the track. I think that we can come together as a community and raise money, but the board of education needs to be a part of the process here.”
But Freda said that he thinks the school board would be concerned that adding a referendum for the school fields may have a negative impact on the board of education's budget being passed.
“We have long known that turfing the high school field is the path of least resistance,” said Councilman Andrew SanFilippo. “But we can’t just stop there. We need more than just that field turfed."
Developing a turf field at KRP, in addition or as an alternative, is expected to incur a lengthy approval process taking at least two years, and it is unclear whether Open Space funds could be used to fund a new turf field. The council said it is looking into options through commitees for both field proposals.