track and field athletes can be proud of their recent accomplishments, and with good reason. But they cannot take similar pride in their track and field facilities—and, to be sure, there’s good reason for that, too.
Rundown and inadequate, they make it impossible for team members to compete at home or simulate the conditions they will find elsewhere. That’s prompted calls to elevate those facilities to the standards of interscholastic competition, a project that could cost a quarter-million dollars or more.
Chris Barbara—with one son among Brewster’s running Bears, and the other, now in college, a recent member of the team—sees the track facilities as “deteriorated, dangerous, illegal and outdated.” School board President Stephen O. Jambor, while not embracing Barbara’s words, doesn’t disagree. He “would love to have a new track.”
It's something Barbara and other track-and-field supporters have been fighting for for more than a year. At a meeting of the Brewster Board of Education last month, officials tabled an action item titled "Approval of BHS Athletic Track and Field Repair and Improvements." They also tabled a subsequent item, calling for the awarding of a bid for track resurfacing and related work, at the suggestion of Deputy Superintendent Timothy Conway.
Conway told trustees that the bid specifications need to be reviewed, as the offers came in "too high." He did not go into further detail. An item titled "Rejection of bids and authorization to rebid for BHS track resurfacing and related work" was on this week's agenda.
Seemingly unmindful of that outside commotion, the track teams—more than 100 athletes, girls as well as boys, varsity and junior varsity—simply excel. In Carmel last spring, they swept the Section 1-B league championships. Capping yet another dominating season, the boys varsity squad rang up as many points at Carmel High as the next three schools combined.
Still, track squad members had to celebrate victory far from Brewster, the place where they train but cannot compete. The school’s former athletic director, Lance Pliego, described their facilities as “very minimal” and “substandard.”
Those words would hardly describe Brewster High’s nearby Fields of Dreams. Called a college-caliber complex by one administrator, it hosts football and field hockey as well as boys and girls soccer and lacrosse. A public bond, following a referendum in which a majority of residents approved major upgrades, financed the $3.4 million project. Its tax impact was dramatically softened by significant private donations, corporate contribution and state aid.
, before a full house of some 1,400 enthusiastic fans, cheering in the glow of their Friday night lights, the stadium contrasts sharply with the track facilities on the other side of Foggintown Road. There, the six-lane composition raceway has not been resurfaced since it was installed more than a decade ago. A weed-hosting long-jump pit is in the wrong place and a pole-vault area just isn’t there at all.
When timing is everything
For boosters of a new and improved track-and-field facility—they include, naturally enough, the athletes themselves as well as their families and friends—the Fields of Dreams complex stands as both mocking reminder and promising symbol of the first-rate stage this school district provides for athletics.
Not surprisingly, they ask, “What about us?” But the bond that helped build the Fields of Dreams was of another time. Today, money for new football fields is something like a clothesline tackle or cut block: people don’t see it nearly as often now and they’re likely to react negatively if they do.
In October 2009, when taxpayers voted on the Fields of Dreams, the nation’s economic dry rot, if already evident, was at least not yet impacting most everyone’s spending decisions. Moreover, bond debt service—the money that must be repaid each year—did not yet count against a strict state tax cap, which did not exist in 2009. The tax cap, enacted by the state legislature last year, limits how much a tax levy can rise. It effectively restricts what local elected officials like a school board can spend.
These days—with programs like language arts facing sharp cutbacks and teachers and other school staff losing their jobs, all in the name of meeting Albany’s legislated restraints—something like capital improvements are increasingly a tough sell.
And a sensitive subject for school district administrators, who were frequently unreachable or unresponsive as this report was being prepared. , Andrew J. Bates, the district’s director of facilities and operations, enthusiastically described the Fields of Dreams complex as “absolutely fantastic” and said it “rivals college sports stadiums.”
This year, he brushed aside even such questions as when the track was built or what it would cost to repair, asserting in an email, “I have no information on this at this time.”
“It is district policy to have the superintendent approve stories or questions from the media,” he maintained.
When other administration officials were similarly tight-lipped about discussing the track, Patch did not seek comment from the school superintendent, Dr. Jane Sandbank. Instead, a reporter asked Dr. Stephen Jambor, the school board’s elected chief, to discuss the track and the steep climb any publicly-financed project faces today.
His history with the track dates back more than a dozen years. In 1999, shortly before his election to the board, Jambor headed a citizen advisory panel charged with recommending capital improvements to the school board.
“We were an ambitious group,” he recalls, “who dreamed big dreams.”
Jambor’s team came back to the board “with a laundry list of things to build that would have totaled $40 million.”
Track, yes; turf field, later
That 1990 list included a badly needed new track as well as the advisory panel’s vision for an all-purpose, artificial-turf field. In the negotiations that followed, however—in pairing $40 million in recommendations down to $24 million in spending—only the track survived.
Propelled by exigent need, it easily trumped the turf field, principally inspired by big dreams. Next time will be the field’s turn, its proponents were promised. But between the vote on that 2000 bond and a projected “Phase II,” the 9/11 attacks intervened to write a harsh new reality for this nascent century.
A second stab at a bond, in 2005, “all went up in smoke,” leaving supporters “very disappointed,” Jambor remembers.
A year later, turf-field boosters, determined to raise the needed money themselves, formed a committee. Initially styled “The Field of Dreams,” it later morphed into the “The Brewster Sports Foundation” with a single-minded goal: to build that all-purpose turf field.
Progress was slow, even with a 2007 jump-start from the C.V. Starr Foundation. A charitable organization chaired by Brewster resident Maurice Greenberg, it offered a $1 million grant if field supporters could match it within the next year. That didn’t happen, forcing school officials to appeal for an extension.
“We then went into overdrive,” Jambor says, “and came up with a bond that included the field project along with renovations for the high school.” The $3.4 million proposal included C.V. Starr’s million-dollar matching grant, $200,000 raised by the Brewster Sports Foundation and another $1 million in state aid. “When we looked at this arithmetic,” Jambor says, “we realized that we were looking at a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Today, in a far different time, a far different set of circumstances confronts a handful of track parents working to raise money, this time to upgrade the track facilities.
For one thing, the kind of hefty contribution that helped make the Fields dream a reality may prove tougher to come by. One of the fund-raising leaders, Chris Barbara, for example, thought they had secured a $167,000 corporate-type grant for the track work. His older son, Nick, a 2012 graduate, he says, initially had gotten an informal agreement for a $100,000 grant. Later, that increased by another $67,000. But a board of directors vote, Barbara says, subsequently quashed the deal.
The efforts by Barbara’s group, while separate, are being pursued on a parallel track with those of the Brewster Sports Foundation. The foundation was created in 2005 to raise and administer private money for the Fields of Dreams bond. It ultimately contributed some $200,000 to the successful package.
At the foundation’s annual dinner this January, when he presented an oversized check for $100,000. Earmarked for the track’s refurbishing but short of what’s needed, the check represents money set aside in Albany for that purpose. If other funds ultimately make the track work doable, the grant will be disbursed—and monitored— by the state Dormitory Authority.
The foundation’s president, John Frates, told the January dinner guests that the organization is now focused on raising money to restore and upgrade the track facilities. Other than Ball’s grant money, however, few dollars appear to have emerged from the foundation’s efforts.