Having attended the most recent public meetings of the Collingswood Board of Education (BOE), I saw two BOE factions with very different priorities coalesce around a high school stadium plan. The BOE’s plan includes demolishing the 4000-seat high school stadium, erecting metal bleacher seating for 500, and commencing with a $13,000 a year cost for portable toilets and shipping storage containers in lieu of the restroom and storage facilities that will be lost with the stadium’s razing.
One segment of the BOE clearly has taken to heart what the electorate expressed about the BOE’s proposed $13 million “Community Enrichment Program”. The referendum’s defeat by 73% of the voters has infused a somewhat refreshing frugality with a large segment of the board members. These members are acutely focused on short-term costs. Consequently, they favor demolishing the stadium which keeps its associated costs next year to under $750,000.
The other segment of the BOE despite the overwhelming rebuke from the electorate clearly has not gotten over their grand ambitions for a “Community Enrichment Program”. What they are doing now is taking an incremental approach for the time being to advance it. Tearing the stadium down is their next step to advance their exorbitant plan of a grand reconfiguration. Fitting into this is their advocacy that the new bleachers for the football field be temporary rather than permanent.
Regardless of the factions, what is sorely lacking in this whole process is a long-term cost analysis. To make an adequately informed decision and to instill trust in the process, the BOE should have clearly and openly compared the long-term cost of repairing the stadium with replacing the stadium as was requested by the public. What was warranted was a simple “apples-to-apples” comparison–one with costs for seating, restrooms, storage, and press booth. The cost comparison should have shown the real cost over many years with snapshots perhaps for the coming two years, and 10, 25 and 50 years out.
It was 22 years ago when the stadium underwent its last major repair. For another repair, a large component cost estimate is for handicap accessibility improvements. This is an overblown (i.e., “cooked”) one-time cost of $500,000. For a stadium capacity of 4000, the Americans With Disability Act requires wheelchair accessible seating for 32. Instead, the repair plan alternative has wheelchair seating across the entire first row of the stadium which is essentially the entire length of the football field.
The balance of the repair cost–the one that would eventually reoccur–is $900,000 reportedly. Spread over 22 years, that comes to $40,909 per year. That is not a small amount of money, but the BOE instead has rushed to an alternative that has them spending at least $13,000 a year just for portable toilets and shipping storage containers. Gone would be the stadium which hosted high school graduations for eighty years and Fourth of July celebrations for decades–the structure district Superintendent Oswald repeatedly referred to as the “big concrete monster.”
I don’t know which alternative would have emerged from an honest long-term cost comparison as a better value and by how much.
It is a shame, however, that the BOE
1) did not have the interest to find out and
2) did not see it as an opportunity to regain the public’s trust and confidence.
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