It took more than two years, but last Tuesday, the Verona Board of Education finally awarded the bid to renovate Verona High School’s aging athletic facilities. The work is going to start this month and finish fast: If all goes well, we will be cheering our athletes on new tennis courts and playing fields when school re-opens in September.
The work awarded to the LandTek Group will bring to a close a process begun on March 11, 2014, when Verona voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum to repair Verona’s six public schools, improve their security and technology, renovate the upper and lower VHS fields and expand and resurface the high school tennis courts. The 1,766 to 1,065 vote was the largest margin of victory for any Verona school referendum; previous attempts to pass a referendum to renovate the fields had failed in 2005 and 2007.
Since the referendum vote, Verona has replaced the 60-year-old boilers at VHS, installed energy-efficient lighting in classrooms and gyms, created security vestibules at all schools and put WiFi connections in every building. The WiFi network has been getting a workout thanks to a substantial grant from the Verona Foundation For Educational Excellence that enabled Verona to lease Chromebooks so that classes can be conducted via Google Apps for Education. Verona will have nearly 1,000 Chromebooks on the network when the school year starts in September.
But the renovation of the tennis courts and multipurpose fields had been stalled like a runner at third until the Verona Planning Board unanimously approved the projects in January. Now everything is going to come barreling toward home.
First up is perhaps the least sexy aspect of the project: The new sewer line that will connect VHS to the existing main on Grove Avenue. Rather than excavate the existing, century-old pipe, which runs through the woods between the upper and lower fields, LandTek will cut a trench for a new line down one side of Sampson Drive.
As the new sewer pipe is being laid, LandTek will move a crew onto the upper field to begin excavation there. Landtek can mobilize quickly because it is already working in Verona: LandTek was the developer picked by the Town Council in March 2014 to build the two turfed youth sports fields behind the Verona Community Center, work that is nearing completion now. LandTek was also the builder of Citi Field, Red Bull Stadium and the Red Bulls’ practice field, and Irvington High School’s turf complex.
On Sellitto Field, as the upper VHS field is known, LandTek will remove the top layer of grass and dirt, and scoop out and crush any old fill it encounters. The upper field was expanded for football use in the late 1970s and as the infill used in that work settled, it created holes in the field that caused the BOE to close it in the fall of 2012. After LandTek’s machines chew through the old fill, it will compact the material and top it with a special landscape fabric, new dirt and artificial turf. According to Superintendent Rui Dionisio, the work could all be finished by August 15.
When Hillbilly baseball finishes for the season, work will shift to Doc Goeltz Field, the lower field at VHS. It will be turfed for use by baseball, lacrosse, soccer and football, and the VHS marching band will be able to use the lower field for practice instead of the high school parking lot. Expect the lower field to be finished by mid-October.
When school ends at VHS, LandTek will begin the last piece of the project, the work on the tennis courts and VHS parking lot. The tennis courts will be expanded to five courts from four to accommodate regulation high school matches, and 38 more parking spaces will be added in the northeast corner of the lot. The court and parking lot work was given the green light by the Planning Board last October, but the BOE waited to bid the project together with the field work to save money. The expanded courts and lot should be ready by the time school begins.
And if all this work is not enough, the summer will also see the completion of several other referendum projects, including the heating and ventilation system at VHS, the VHS cafeteria kitchen renovation, and masonry repairs to several schools.