All the light poles at the Roselle Park High School (RPHS) Athletic Field have been removed. Rented portable lights will illuminate band practice and night games for the rest of the year for about $20,000 for seven to eight night games over the next three months.
The decision to remove them was announced at the September 6th Board Of Education (BOE) meeting. BOE member Loren Harms stated that on August 29th, the facilities committee reviewed a report from ReliaPOLE (link), based out of Texas. The pole inspection firm noted that ten (10) poles had cracks in them and two of them – one with a 21-inch crack and another with a three-inch crack – needed to be taken down immediately. With only five poles left that are structurally sound, the BOE decided to remove all the light poles.
Mr. Harms reported that ReliaPOLE gave an estimate of $195,000 to remediate the cracked light poles but that would not include the crane rental nor would there be a guarantee as to how long the remediation would be effective. Reading from the report, Mr. Harms quoted, “Based on the French & Parello Associates report and our own findings, we believe that all remaining poles are at or near the end of their safe useful life and we recommend replacement . . . The committee thought that is way too much to be spending on that when, in fact, we can put this money at some time to replace these poles. So the recommendation of the committee is to take all remaining poles down.”
Mr. Harms requested that those in attendance be allowed to offer comments on the light poles.
Karen Donnelly asked, “What is the permanent solution?”
Mr. Harms stated that quotes would need to be gotten to decide the cost of replacing the light poles. Then, the Board would try to receive funds from grants or even donations or gifts and even see if different types of poles – like telephone poles – cost be less costly. Then Mr. Harms added, “Hopefully, that will be next November. We have to put that extra money that we need that we don’t’ get from grants out to the public to approve. That’s when we get the lights, when the public approves the money we need . . . I’m going to tell you it won’t happen until at least 2018.”
Joseph Signorello, who is a BOE candidate, asked if an ad hoc committee could be put together to help with getting the light poles replaced. He commented, “I’d hate to see us go back to no lights. I think it’s going to be a hard sell if it costs $100,000 to $900,000 to put on a referendum . . . This committee could probably help you to get this sold. Like Mr. Harms said this is not going to be easy. You need a buy-in of other committees – soccer, baseball, football, quarterback club – to help sell it and to be able to push the votes to get through.”
Mr. Signorello added, “I’ve seen a lot of signs go up on people’s houses the last couple of week. I think with no lights it’s like more tumbleweed just going through the Borough of Roselle Park and I remember how the fields were, they looked before the Green Acres, they were horrible.”
Mr. Signorello asked if there was any possibility of holding off replacing the lights until RPHS first home football game.
“No,” replied Mr. Harms, continuing, “The one thing we don’t talk about is the safety of our children, our community members or anybody else that comes to our town to go on that field. We’re worrying about one light staying up . . . but nobody talks about the safety of what actually is out there. I have a report here that says they should come down . . . My whole sole purpose is for the safety of our children. I’m not sure that I want to write anything or commit to somebody and say I’m sorry we didn’t do what this because I wanted to have one more football game or one more soccer game.”
“I concur Mr. Harms,” said Mr. Signorello, “but if you had gotten maybe a committee together and shared this within the last couple of days to a week where you could have spread it a little more.”
“Mr. Signorello, we just found this out last Monday,” replied Mr. Harms, “It was a holiday weekend. People were on vacation. I’m not sure where we would get a committee together to tell me – reading this thing here – to take all our lights down. I’m not sure where you’re going with that.”
“If you’re sincere about it, were you at the field today with the wind? How imminent is this concern? That’s my question,” remarked Mr. Signorello.
“Well, my imminent concern [is] we took two down on Friday because I was very concerned about the 21-inch split in it and the 3-inch split in it,” answered Mr. Harms, “That is my concern. I wanted to take the rest of them down but we can’t because we have to get the rest of the Board’s okay to take them down. That’s where I am and I apologize if I seem to be a little upset in the end, it’s the safety of our children.”
BOE President Chris Miller commented that he thought the ad hoc committee was a good idea and necessary to garner community support.
Mr. Harms added, “This has not been an easy thing. I’ll speak for myself, I want lights up. I think it’s great. Friday night football, it’s great. I don’t want to see my town become a tumbleweed. I’ve been here long enough, I have a lot in stake in this town. I will personally do everything possible to get lights back up. I can’t promise . . . I [just] don’t want lights coming down on anybody.”
Matthew Leingang, another candidate for the BOE asked about the process of placing the amount for replacement lights on a referendum. He was notified that it is too late to place it on this year’s ballot and it would have to go on the November 2017 election. Mr. Miller did state that there could be a special election but that would cost between $13,000 to $30,000. Mr. Harms added that the Board also wanted to go through every possible venue to make the tax impact less for taxpayers.
Mr. Leingang said he was comparing the cost of renting lights over the cost of an early election. He added, “To that end, do those monies go towards the rental or do they go towards the replacement?”
When told the funds in the referendum would go towards replacing the light poles, Mr. Leingang asked, “So how is the rental paid for?”
“We’ll have to find the money somewhere,” was the response from the Board. It was also announced that the cost for removing all the current light poles was a little under $40,000.
BOE member Troy Gerten asked why a vote by the full BOE was needed. Jennifer Osborne, the BOE attorney, responded, “It’s not that we have to one way or another, legally speaking, we just felt that because it was such a public issue and that it went through committee and it’s been addressed by bringing outside vendors into the district and presenting the issue at meetings that it would be beneficial to kind of have an official sort of end to the process saying this is how the Board voted with respect to one, the removal of the remainder of the lights that were an immediate security concern – meaning that they’ve already come down – and then, two, with respect to going forward on the rental of the equipment going forward.”
“I just want to make sure that we’re not setting a precedent in our own Board here because there’s a lot of times that operational practices of the district go through the Superintendent, the Business Administrator, maybe a committee – maybe not a committee, but never even come to the Board for a vote,” said Mr. Gerten, “To me, this is no different than if the boiler went at one of the schools, we would be spending that $250,000 to remediate that issue immediately without question. That’s where my concern is, bringing it to the Board for a vote.”
“Very valid point and absolutely something that can be considered by the Board this evening as to whether or not they want to actually have a vote, said Mrs. Osborne.
After some discussion, it was decided that the issue would not be voted by the Board and that the committee’s recommendation would be followed.
Mr. Gerten then asked what the reasoning was to only rent the lights for the fall and not the entire school year since programs are usually planned annually. He was notified that, in talking with the previous Athletic Director, the Board was told that there were no night games for baseball or softball in the spring.
A discussion was then had regarding who would be responsible for refilling the diesel engines that run the portable lights. Mr. Gerten stated, “I would be hesitant to see them filled on the fields by our personnel. If the liability could [be] shifted to the vendor. If there ever has to be remediation, from an environmental perspective, the liability is just shifted there.”
Mr. Gerten also asked the basic question regarding the cost to use portable lights, “Where do we think that we’re going to be able to find that $40,000?”
“We’ll have to go through the thousands of line items in the budget and take a little from each to come up with the $20,000,” replied Business Administrator Susan Guercio.
“Just to clarify,” asked Mr. Gerten, “we’re not going to take this out of capital reserve, rather we’re going to take it out of the operational [budget]?”
“We would not be allowed to take this out of capital reserve, not for light poles,” said Mrs. Guercio, “Capital reserve is to be used only on building structural needs that have been identified in our Long Range Facility Plan.”
Mrs. Guercio further clarified that the cost could come out of capital reserve but it would be by way of a public referendum.
The next BOE meeting is scheduled for tomorrow night, September 20th, at the Roselle Park High School auditorium.
(The article photograph is from ReliaPOLE’s website and it not an actual pole at the RPHS Athletic Complex.)