by Robert Holt
WOOLWICH TWP. — The Kingsway Regional High School District asked for support for its athletic complex improvement plan at a presentation for members of its communities at Kingsway on Jan. 28. An $11.95 million referendum will be facing voters in Swedesboro, East Greenwich, South Harrison, and Woolwich Townships when they go to the polls in a special election on March 8.
Building a new eight-lane track is a big part of the school’s proposals. According to District Superintendent James Lavender, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association condemned Kingsway’s current track in 2014, and Kingsway track athletes have been unable to use their home field since.
The plan is divided into two questions. Question 1 covers conversion of the current track into an 8-lane rubberized surface, and would convert Kingsway’s natural grass football field into a multi-sport artificial turf field. Also, the visitor’s bleacher seating would be expanded by 300 to a total of 909, and the home bleachers press box would be expanded.
Bus parking and a new bus maintenance building would be part of Question 1. “We have 40 buses and 3 mechanics,” pointed out Lavender.
Question 2 would expand the existing athletic field house building. It would also build a new expanded track and field/band field house that would include concessions, lockers, meeting rooms, storage and restrooms.
Question 1 would cost $9.98 million, while Question 2 was valued at $1.97 million. Costs to taxpayers was based on the assessed value of their home, according to Board of Education President James Mueller.
The monthly tax impact for the average assessed home would be $9.82 for South Harrison ($117.82 a year), $8.11 for Woolwich ($97.32 a year), $6.83 ($81.96 a year) for East Greenwich, and $5.74 ($68.88 a year) for Swedesboro. “We tried to keep most homes under $100 each year,” noted Mueller.
“At present, we are a Group 4 school with Group 2 resources and it isn’t fair to our student athletes, when we complete against similar size schools such as Shawnee, Cherokee, Williamstown, and Washington Twp., all of whom have excellent facilities.” Lavender explained. “As a Group 4 School (Group 5 in Football and Wrestling), our student athletes are competing at a high level and this project not only resolves a number of critical issues but literally evens the playing field for them.”
About 20 local people were in attendance at the presentation. Jordan Schlump of Woolwich Township who is also a member of the Woolwich Township Committee, asked about the life span of the proposed track. School Business Administrator and Board Secretary Jason Schimpf said they expected it to last 10 years. Lavender added that the new turf field would last 10 years as well.
Carl Marshall of Mickleton mentioned, “Isn’t that a concern, with the 10 year life of the turf and the 20-year span of the bill?”. Schimpf responded that much of the money in the plan is in drainage.
In response to a question regarding injuries occurring on artificial turf, Lavender pointed out that studies have shown the numbers to be about the same as playing on natural grass.
Steve LaRocca of East Greenwich questioned what happens to the revenue Kingsway receives from hosting track meets. Schimpf responded that it provides funds for budget line items such as textbooks, and slows down the school’s need to raise taxes.
LaRocca also expressed concern for the track students running along Route 322 during construction. Lavender answered that this was under consideration, and the students would be rerouted.
Jim Hulitt of Woolwich felt that there hadn’t been enough communication to the communities about the project. Lavender noted that Kingsway had employed press releases, Kingsway’s website, Facebook and social media to spread the word. “We just announced this after our winter break,” Lavender commented.
Hulitt still said there should have been more mailings and more notification. A woman from Clarksboro agreed, saying she didn’t find out about it until the last few days.
“People who don’t have kids don’t look on the Kingsway website, and people I know didn’t come out because they didn’t know about it,” she added. “It’s hard to vote for this when we just voted for the expansion.”
“What do you think about the long-term effect of Kingsway always asking for money?” Marshall stated. “You ask for something every two to three years.”
“We’re asking for a certain amount as a capital improvement, and because of our growth,” Lavender told him. “Our only way to raise money for the infrastructure is through the taxation process.”
“As long as enrollment stays steady, we’re good,” continued the superintendent.
“The 47 percent underfunding of Kingsway is on our minds as well,” noted Mueller. “This isn’t going away until we get the proper funding in Trenton.”
Lavender expressed disappointment that the local communities hadn’t supported their efforts well enough in Trenton. “We need thousands of people there,” he said.
Polls will be open from 2 to 9 p.m. on March 8 at the Kingsway Regional High School Media Center North.