GR Planning Board Green Lights BOE Renovation Project

Little courtesy expressed at disputed courtesy review

The Glen Rock Board of Education and planning board on Thursday clashed over the procedural status of Thursday night's hearing, as well as a small sum of money related to the district's plans to renovate its athletic complex and .

Despite several testy exchanges over who would pay for the time spent by the borough's professional staff and whether the hearing was a courtesy review or a mandatory requirement under law, the planning board voted 7-2 in favor of endorsing the school board's proposed remedies.

Residents – who urged the governing bodies to "work it out" and called the intra-government argument "embarrassing" – expressed skepticism the process of replacing large quantities of "clay" soil in conjunction with new underground drainage systems would ease the runoff.

An engineer, architect and administrator on behalf of the district rolled through the , outlining how a series of retaining walls and pipes would capture stormwater and release it into the municipal stormwater system.

"The drainage was never good. We now have a unique opportunity to make it better but to also provide a state of the art athletic facility," said architect Anthony Katana, adding that the quality of facilities pales in comparison to that of similar districts. 


The base option, explained Katana, involves rebuilding the track and sodding both the football field and lower soccer field along with an underwater drainage system. The alternate proposals would feature a combination of turfing of both fields, replacing the track, re-sodding the baseball field, installing a new concession stand, bleachers and press box, while adding two tennis courts and a scoreboard on the lower field.

Regardless of which remedy option is selected, according to engineer Todd Hay the problem with the drainage is that the present soil doesn't absorb water properly, creating runoff that has canceled entire seasons and left the fields a messy sight. It's not necessarily because of a high groundwater table, he testified, something planning board engineer Al Roughgarden had previously speculated.

Excavating soil would provide protection for a 100-year flood event, Hay said, repeating previous statements that the amount of water running off the high school property would not increase.

Project exacerbate water problems?

Residents said while all that sounds good, what if it doesn't hold true?

"They're giving you a partial solution," Howard Bookbinder, a nearby resident, told the planning board. "There's nothing even out to bid!"

Bookbinder, like other residents, said homes surrounding the high school have suffered from drainage runoff for years.

Fellow resident Laura French Spada asked if the boards had considered how they would compensate residents should the supposed fixes actually exacerbate the water problems.

No response was provided toward that hypothetical; Hay testified that unless serious construction problems emerged, that would not occur.

Tree removal

Others, like Glen Rock Environmental Commission chair Cindy Mehallow –who along with planning board chair Mark McCullough was one of two 'no' votes – , another point the school board reps disagreed with.

An arborist in attendance testified that a well constructed around the trees near the south endzone could save them from destruction. Those trees absorb a good deal of water, various tree-huggers said. "Is that taken into account in plans?" they asked.

In response, Hay said the DEP doesn't require the board to take into consideration the impact losing five mature trees would have on drainage but said speculated the impact would be minimal and trees would be replanted. 

Even if the drainage issues by the school are addressed, it doesn't necessarily mean those in low-lying areas around the school will find relief, Kattana, the architect said. The board is merely dealing with its own property, he stated, adding that they've already been granted the requisite permits by the county and state to move forward.

Who do you bill?

Mayor John van Keuren and other planning board members quibbled with the school board over who would foot the bill for the work the borough's engineer and planning board attorney had performed in reviewing plans presented. It was a sum under $5,000 and one argued seemingly in philosophical differences.

From the perspective of some members on the planning board, the hearing was not a "courtesy review," but rather a requirement to ensure the stormwater ordinance was met as stipulated in the Master Plan.

Regardless, residents said the encounter was disappointing and silly considering taxpayers are on the hook regardless of the claimant.

"What I saw was disgraceful," said resident Ira Quiat of the exchange. "I implore you to work it out."

School board president Rona McNabola said at the end of the meeting the board will continue to discuss the status of the project at its meeting on Feb. 13. Bids on the project, estimated at $2.5 million, are to go out in late February with a board decision likely on March 26.


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