School board pressed for improved athletic facilities

The Aug. 20 Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board meeting was dominated by discussions on a potential grounds program and calls for improving athletic facilities. The bulk of those discussions came during the opening public remarks section of the meeting.

Former school board Director Holly Manzone said there’s been “a lot of buzz” regarding talks about a possible grounds plan, its potential cost and a survey conducted to learn residents’ opinions.

Manzone said discussions she had with people after seeing results of the survey indicate that most people don’t think any changes are needed.

“The survey pretty much showed that things are pretty much OK. Sixty percent had a positive opinion of the traffic flow; about 50 percent thought that the recreational and athletic facilities are adequate. About 36 percent had the opposite opinion. But overall,  people seem to be pretty content. And then we hear your thinking about spending $10 million to improve it. People don’t think there’s any need…It seems that this is something we don’t need to do,” she said. “There are a lot of people in this school district who would prefer that you focus on academics rather than try to find ways to justify sports things, particularly for outside groups.”

When Manzone had finished, Director Gregg Lindner — who chairs the facilities committee — said there is no proposal on the table to spend $10 million. “There is no $10 million proposal last week, or the week before that or this week.”

Later, board President Jeff Hellrung said nothing is final and that the board would get a final report with estimated costs in September and the recommendations — either all, some or none —would be merged into the district’s 10-year-facilities plan.

“We’ll then be asking for robust community, administration and board input,” Hellrung said. “At the end of the line, we’re going to integrate this plan into our 10-year-facilities and grounds plan. We’re going to adopt none, or some or all of the recommendations depending on what seems to be wise and appropriate for our students and for our community. It will be something that serves the needs of our students at a reasonable cost to our taxpayers.”

During the rest of the public comment session, several residents talked about the need to improve athletic facilities.

Ruth Russell, of East Marlborough and assistant tennis coach, said the high school needs more tennis courts because varsity tennis requires seven courts and the district is one short.

“Having six courts for a varsity tennis team is like being handicapped,” she said. It impacts how long our matches go…we don’t have enough courts to sometimes finish a varsity match within daylight hours, let alone sometimes not even be able to allow our JV team to play…This is a tennis-playing community, as I understand one of the motivating factors for doing things is that you want to improve the parking and driving facilities around the high school. This would be an ideal time to bring us up to a varsity level rather than handicap us.

She was backed up by Janet Johnston, also from East Marlborough, and coach of the girl’s tennis team for 13 years. “With a smaller number of courts, we are there longer than you might be there watching a football game because when you have six courts, you can’t finish that seventh court. Now you have 12, sometimes 20 JV players that have to dovetail behind it. We want to give those kids the respect and the opportunity to play their matches.”

Johnston went on to say that the longer playing times take time away from studies. And some of the better teams closer to Philadelphia don’t want to drive an hour or more to Chester County to play and a fewer number of courts, which reduces the UHS team’s chance to play better competition at home.

“If they’re not losing academic study time after school because of late matches here, they’re losing academic time in class because they have to leave extra early to get to get there and then we have a long bus ride to get home. Those are really important academic reasons why the tennis program needs to have eight courts. It’s now state of the art in Pennsylvania to have eight courts.”

Several other residents, such as Arnold Klingenberg and Angela Darlington, told the board the soccer fields need to be improved so there would be fewer injuries.

Monday night’s meeting was the last one before school resumes next Monday, Aug. 27. The board’s next meeting is its work session scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 17.

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About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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