Thumbs down on bleacher expansion

| 29 Sep 2011 | 08:00

WESTFALL - There won’t be any new seating to separate contentious fans at Delaware Valley football games this fall. By a 6-3 margin at the Jan 19 meeting, the district directors reversed a November move to draw up specifications for the construction of new bleachers on the visitors’ side of Warrior stadium. The preliminary engineering was expected to cost between $20,000 and $25,000. The 1,600 seat project was estimated at $300,000 to $350,000. With the district’s rapid growth and recent success in the football program, school officials and some board members have worried about the growing size and partisanship of crowds at popular Friday night home games. All of Warrior Stadium’s 1,900 seats are on the same side of the field with fans of both teams in close proximity. Bleacher proponents said there is danger of rioting and injury. Opponents said the district has too many educational issues to deal with to be spending money on new bleachers. They said fans’ bad behavior should not be rewarded with the construction of new seats. They would add additional security or limit attendance at the games. The decision in favor of building new bleachers was made at the last meeting of the outgoing board in November. At that time, three departing members provided the majority. When named again as president of the new board in December, Sue Casey sent the issue back to committee for review. Casey, who had opposed the project, said the three new incoming members should be involved in the decision. New members, Bob Goldsack, Ed Silverstone and Deborah DuCharme provided the margin to reverse the measure last week. Goldsack reported on measures taken at Hoboken High School, where he said up to 8,000 people attend games at a smaller stadium. Along with added security, “They have a zero tolerance policy for drugs, alcohol and bad language,” Goldsack said. Superintendent Dr. Candis Finan has lobbied hard for the bleachers and last week insisted that the extra seating was as important as security. “I don’t know how this got so tilted toward security. It’s a numbers issue,” she said. Dr. Tom Finan, the district’s director of secondary education, said Hoboken’s enrollment is about one-third the size of Delaware Valley and the limited seating Warrior Stadium would prevent the district from hosting league playoff and championship games. Silverstone claimed the project was unbudgeted, but Dr. Candis Finan argued that bleachers have been on the district’s capital project list since February of 2004. “To say they’re not budgeted is not accurate.” DuCharme said the enlargement will be needed, “but not this year...We’ll do it when we can.” One parent complained earlier about limited seating for graduation and Bell Hodges Smith said the need for the larger facility went beyond football. “The district keeps growing and this is only going to cost more two years from now,” she said. Vice-President John Wroblewski continued to worry about safety. “If we ever had to evacuate rapidly people would get trampled...I was against (expansion) but I’ve turned around 180-degrees,” he said. Casey spoke last in the debate, noting her opposition, she asked Finance Committee Chair Jack Fisher for the bottom line. “Where is the money coming from,” she said. Fisher, who voted no after voting yes in November, said a line of credit could be tapped, and that the project could be “rolled into a bond issue.” Fisher earlier agreed with Pam Lutfy, who said that attendance should be limited. Fisher also suggested that ticket prices be raised to limit attendance. One man in the audience disagreed. “You’re talking about limiting seating and excluding the community, when we should be encouraging them. It’s a centerpiece gathering place,” he said. Hodges, Frankie Colletta and Wroblewski made up the minority in the vote.