PINE BUSH – A startling offer from Watchtower, the Jehovah's Witnesses' organization centered on Red Mills Road, worth about $136,000, has the Pine Bush Central School District scrambling to see if it can take advantage of the offer.
At the School Board meeting on Tuesday, September 14, Tom Walraven, Physical Education Teacher and Varsity Baseball Coach, presented a plan to the board for repairing the E.J.Russell Field.
The problems with the field are long standing and have been growing worse. The southern side of the field is uneven and drains poorly. A tree situated by the soccer field has grown large over the years. Its roots have infiltrated the drainage pipes under the field. Every year the ground staff has to clear the drains with a plumbing snake because the ground near the tree is wet and the grass grows tall.
"The field is used by Crispell and E.J. Russell for physical education," said Walraven, "as well as by the Varsity Girls Soccer team, and the Varsity Baseball team. In addition, there are community members using it in the fall and the spring."
"The surface on the southern end has six areas of concern, with depressions several inches deep ranging from two to four feet wide."
"In addition," said Walraven. "There is a 27 inch drop from the infield of the baseball diamond to the beginning of the playground. This drop has increased in the last few years due to the field being rolled for baseball."
Walraven said that Gary Rich, a surveyor and an alumnus of Pine Bush schools and current Varsity Wrestling Coach, had donated a professional plan for remedying the situation.
"It started with the 2007 Alumni baseball game," said Walraven. "Seventy players came back, and out of that a group of community members came forward who volunteered their time for improvements to the field. We tried to get this into the EXCEL program, but it wasn't eligible for that funding."
"Then the Watchtower Community was contacted and they offered us the use of heavy equipment for a week or so."
The plan involves removing the tree and grinding the stump. Bringing in 1,000 cubic yards of fill and topsoil, and contouring it to both even out the current drop from west to east, and improve passive drainage to the south where the currently installed subsurface drains flow into a ditch. With the tree removed, Walraven believes the drainage will improve.
Walraven noted that "the use of Watchtower's equipment is a potential donation worth about $136,000. So, compared with that, the rest is much less."
The catch in all this is that Watchtower's assistance is for the last week of September. That gives the School District very little time to pull the rest of this together.
Roseanne Sullivan, President of the Board, said, "I know we have problems with other fields, but we have to get started somewhere, and this seems like a good place to start. People are getting very creative here."
However, she also noted that the cost of the fill, and the cost of moving it, would be a sticking point. Walraven provided an estimate of $20,000. However, that was a figure derived from topsoil costs, not for cheaper fill.
Superintendent Phil Steinberg said, "I'm game. I walked the baseball field with Tom, and you can see this drop as you go out past second base. Somebody could hurt themselves, running out there, looking backwards for a fly ball."
John Anthony, Vice-President of the Board, said, "The south end of the field is a health and safety issue, and we're liable. We do have a problem with that field and we have to come up with something."
Bob Garloch, Operation & Maintenance chief for the District, said, "We have fill material. There's a pile of it at Circleville Middle School. We'd have to get a SPEDS permit (State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System). That material is pretty stoney, you'd have to screen it."
Eric Meier, Board Member, observed that "time is the issue here. Can this be organized by the end of the month?"
Roseanne Sullivan said, "We will have to hold a special meeting of the board to approve this, because our next regular meeting isn't until September 28."
Tom Walraven added, "The seeding season for grass ends this month, too."
Phil Steinberg said that he and Walraven would meet and see if this great offer from Watchtower could be taken up immediately.
"If we don't have answers for some of these things, then we'll have to put it off until next summer. But, clearly, it would be best if we could get this done right away," he said.