"Deplorable" and "unacceptable" were just two of the words parents and students used to describe the state of the athletic fields in the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District at last week's board meeting. And judging by the audience reaction, it won't be the last time the board hears about the issue.
Much of the discussion revolved around replacing the current natural fields with turf, a solution that may fix the divots and make for a smoother and more easily maintained playing surface.
Finding funds for new fields, however, is the difficult part of the job. Even a parent-supported initiative to raise funds for new and improved turf fields "died on the vine," according to one resident who later asked the board to "Step up to the plate collectively and make a decision."
Many of the parents and students who spoke up about the issue blamed the state of the fields on the lack of a full time athletic director, a position currently held by Dennis White. White also teaches full-time for Unionville, leaving him limited time to perform his director duties.
Funding -- or a lack it -- and overuse appear to be the two main reasons the fields are in their current shape. Several of the fields are also used by outside athletic groups who have no financial responsibility for the fields.
Former board member Keith Knauss made several comments about the fields, and had loads of detailed information regarding the history of the field issue and a cost analysis on the viable options.
"Gym classes, school athletic teams and community recreational groups all flock to the district's fields," Knauss said, reading from a prepared statement about the fields. "In fact, since there are no recreational facilities provided by the seven townships which comprise our district our fields are the only venues for local athletic events."
In his statement, Knauss pointed out that, even though no one disputes the state of the fields, cost and outside athletic groups were the two stand out arguments against turf
Knauss also said that although outside athletic groups provide a recreational public service, they are not educational in nature and offer nothing in the way of monetary compensation for using the school's fields.
According to Knauss, the turf field solution -- the one touted by its supporters as the most viable and desired solution -- could cost close to $1 million to implement. The addition of a full-time athletic director is an additional $100,000 per year in salary. Knauss -- whose eye was always on the bottom line in his four-year stretch with the board -- added that while turf fields may be the obvious answer, they are not the most cost effective.
"Two years ago we spent a million dollars for an artificial surfaced track and expanded stadium," Knauss said in an e-mail sent to The Kennett Paper. "We've had requests for another full-time trainer, a district-owned swimming facility, a dance sport, an equestrian team, an ice hockey team and gymnastics. The requests never end because there is never a lack of worthy projects suggested for the benefit of one group of people to be financed by a different group."
Knauss added that most parents would not support new athletic fields if they had to pay out $300 annually for its use and maintenance.
Knauss also said that a 1999 study shows an average of $375,000 spent per year on athletics -- money in his opinion that could be used for more direct educational purposes.
"Is the expenditure of a million dollars the most efficient way to further the student body's education?" Knauss said. "Would the million dollars better be spent on providing choice at the middle school? Or a teacher to help students meet the [No Child Left Behind] mandates? Or better science labs at the high school? Or reduced class size at the elementary level? Or consider if maybe the benefit is so marginal that the best course of action is to keep that $1 million in the hands of the taxpayer."
Knauss' statement for the board to move with "cautious deliberation" regarding additional tax dollars on athletics drew a series of boos from the audience.
Calls placed to Superintendent John Kenney regarding the future of a full-time athletic director were not returned in time for publication.