In response to concerns voiced by parents and track and field student-athletes about a possible March 1 start date for the Kehler Stadium renovation project, the Westfield Board of Education is expected to approve at its Oct. 9 meeting an amendment to the contract that sets April 8 as the date for construction to begin.
“This compromise is the result of listening to the legitimate concerns of our track and field families as well as the recommendations from our engineer, architect and contractor,” said Business Administrator Dana Sullivan. “We also held numerous conversations with Westfield High School Principal Dr. Derrick Nelson and Supervisor of Athletics Sandra Mamary who, in turn, discussed a possible timeline with the track and field coaching staff. Coach Tafelski has indicated that he believes the April 8 compromise is a workable plan.”
The April 8 construction start date would leave an approximate four week period (including the week of Spring break) during which other accommodations would be necessary for the track and field program. Starting in May, as originally planned when the project was first approved, those student-athletes who advance in the state meets also will be provided other accommodations.
“Our nine track and field coaches are experienced with juggling the schedules of a large team. They will work to identify which days certain athletes will need to practice elsewhere versus those days when they can remain on-site (i.e., the fitness center),” said Superintendent Dr. Margaret Dolan.
Logistics are still being finalized by the high school athletic department and coaching staff, but the broad plan for the month-long period is as follows:
- The approximately 50-60 student athletes who are throwers will continue to practice in Westfield, as was always planned.
- An additional width, as recommended by the coaching staff, will be added to the cinder track at Roosevelt Intermediate School as an optional location for practice.
- Distance runners can do some training work away from a track and will not have to commute to practice every day.
- Three buses will be obtained for transportation to other tracks in Union County; Scotch Plains and Union have indicated they are open to sharing their space and that it will not be necessary for the home team to complete practice before Westfield athletes can begin, ensuring that practices will not run late into the evening as was an expressed concern.
- Space will be provided in WHS for students who wish to study and complete homework prior to leaving for practice.
- Arrangements have been made to relocate spring sports events.
Work on Kehler Stadium to replace the turf field, track, blacktop, bleachers and to renovate the bathrooms had been scheduled to begin in early May 2017 after the contract was awarded to the lowest responsible bidder, Your Way Construction, Inc. of Irvington. The Board approved the Kehler contract on March 19, 2017. The project suffered a two-month delay after the third lowest bidder in the process filed a bid protest which was denied in April 2018, as was a subsequent appeal on July 5, 2018.
The Kehler Stadium renovation plan was again reviewed and the decision to begin the work on March 1, 2019 was proposed to address the concerns of the contractor, engineer and architect who felt that the original start date of May 8 was too aggressive should the excessive amounts of rain seen last summer be repeated.
“As I stated at the Board of Education meeting on September 25, there is no hidden agenda. There is no favoring one sport over another,” said Board President Gretchan Ohlig. “At the same time, there is no perfect solution. We have a sizable construction project and a limited number of months in which to complete it.”
Ohlig pointed out that if Kehler Stadium was unavailable during the spring, it would impact daily practice and 6 meets for approximately 270 athletes. If the stadium was unavailable in the fall, it would impact daily practice and 70 games for approximately 200 athletes. Additionally, fall sports who use Kehler Stadium in August for the pre-season will be impacted, Ohlig said.
“Based on their experience and conversations with other schools in Union County, some of whom have completed similar projects and used Westfield’s track and fields for their athletes, WHS Principal Dr. Derrick Nelson and athletic director Sandra Mamary feel that this is a viable plan for the track and field program,” said Ohlig. “We think this compromise date of April 8 for the long awaited construction to begin on Kehler Stadium is the best possible solution for a less than ideal situation. This is a temporary inconvenience for a new track and field and upgraded facility.”