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Motion to Postpone Field Lights Project Fails

The Richfield School Board’s decision to use turf field revenues to install fields on the high school baseball field was upheld Thursday night.

, the district will be moving ahead with the installation of lights on the high school baseball field.

During a , a motion to postpone the controversial $200,000 project and revisit it in December 2013 did not receive a majority vote, deadlocking at 3-3.

Prior to the board's decision, the public was allowed to speak, however, most in attendance were displeased with the final result.

“That’s a shame,” one audience member said shaking his head following the board’s decision.

“Good thing we had a public forum so we could be listened to,” another shouted.

“You’ve got my vote,” one said sarcastically while exiting the boardroom.

Those against the project—many of whom were holding signs in protest—believed a district struggling to close an achievement gap and in need of passing a referendum this fall, should spend the money in the classroom or use it bolster the general fund balance. However, those in favor of the lights believed the addition could create a greater since of community pride, make night games possible and generate revenue through facility rentals.

The project uses revenue from the new turf field to pay for the installation over seven years and pairs with a received to revamp the ball field. , after the board discovered the turf field would generate nearly double the revenue it expected this year and be sufficient in years to come. Board Members Todd Nollenberger and John Easterwood were the two who voted against the project that evening.

After public outcry, Board Member John Ashmead joined Nollenberger and Easterwood in the request for a special session and, in turn, were the three who voted to postpone the project Thursday night.

Details on when the lights project will begin, however, some construction has already begun. Stay tuned for more from the meeting in another article.

Jeremy Larson June 29, 2012 at 02:57 AM
This decision by the board is very disappointing. It's interesting that the majority of those that showed up for the meeting were opposed. If those who were in favor of this project were concerned that the project was threatened they would have shown up to show their support. It is quite apparent that there is not overwhelming support for this project. Thank you to Mr. Ashmead for his reconsideration and actually listening to his constituents. As a parent of one current and one future Richfield student, I would like to see a referendum passed this fall, but it will be a difficult sell to the citizens of this City when board members make such poor choices. Shame on you!
Caitlin Burgess (Editor) June 29, 2012 at 03:04 AM
There were a couple people who spoke in support of the lights, sort of. I'll have another article tomorrow with some of the stuff that was said during the meeting, by the public and board members.
Jodi Olson June 29, 2012 at 03:11 AM
Very disappointing in so many ways. It is going to make it so much harder for our referendum to pass now! I fail to see how community pride over a field should have priority over our students learning. Thank you John for being the one person who actually listened to those who voted for you. You will have my vote in the future, unlike several others on the board. Now it's time for the board to actually spend some time focusing on the referendum, don't you think? I would like to know how they plan to show Richfield that they are fiscally responsible because after this vote it sure does not look that way.
Matt Jurewicz June 29, 2012 at 03:12 AM
Three board members, Lamberger, Belkengren and Etienne, are holding the school budget hostage in order to fund a pet project for their friends. All the thoughtful and logical reasons to NOT go ahead with this irresponsible expenditure fell on deaf ears. The three board membes didn't even have the decency to defend their position. Very dissapointed in this irresponsible decision.
Caitlin Burgess (Editor) June 29, 2012 at 03:15 AM
Yes. I thought it was interesting that David Lamberger, Deb Etienne and Chair Belkengren didn't speak on the matter.
Matt Jurewicz June 29, 2012 at 03:32 AM
I thought the little exchange Belkengren had with the business manager was interesting. When Belkengren fell back on that weak argument about the "20-30% higher costs" if the lights are delayed, the business manager said, "I don't know where you're getting those figures." It's as if she was making stuff up. Also, the absence of the "many supporters" of the lights at this meeting was also telling. Where were they?
Jason Gabbert June 29, 2012 at 04:01 AM
I would like to know how much money the rental of the lighted field will generate. That hasn't been estimated or addressed. What troubles me is the baseball program has been crap for years and will only get worse as the feeder program dries up due to changing demographics in the Richfield population. Hell, many of the parents don't even come out to watch the games and the only students who appear are those walking by on their way home after school. So, in that regard, it does seem like this project was for the satisfaction of a few. It reminds me of the "Bridge to Nowhere", an expensive project that will benefit very few.
Caitlin Burgess (Editor) June 29, 2012 at 04:04 AM
That's not necessarily true Amber. You're right. There are two different kinds of funds. One for making repairs and upgrades (capital) and the other for paying teacher salaries, maintaining the facilities and so on (general/operating). The rents generated by the turf field are indisputably operating funds. However, the lights are a capital project and while operating dollars can be spent on anything, these dollars could most certainly be used in the classrooms. This is where the arguments are coming from. On the other side of the argument, those funds were not anticipated and are now being invested to potentially further other ways of generating funds through facility rental.
Christine Passeri Maleck June 29, 2012 at 04:40 AM
The shock and disappointment of the end result tonight brought tears to my eyes. I saw passionate arguments from community members for and against the lights. Many thinking to the future expressed concern over the effect a decision like this could have on Richfield's ability to pass a referendum that failed last year by very few votes. I saw passion and strong arguments from board members Todd Nollenberger and John Easterwood about the process utilized, the lack of due diligence, and the forthought in how this could be perceived by the voting public while trying to pass a referendum. I saw great strength and character in John Ashmead in stepping up to admit that he had not considered and the board had not discussed the effect this decision could have on the ability to pass a referendum. John did the right thing and it could not have been easy as a junior member of the board. Although I disagree with the votes cast by board members David Lamberger, Sandy Belkengren, and Deb Etienne, my disappointment in their ability to express a single word to explain why they chose to vote for the lights during the board discussion portion of the meeting is devastating. The impression as an observer is that they felt no need to explain their reasoning and their decisions were made long before hearing the public's opinion. It was as if they showed up because they had no choice.
Christine Passeri Maleck June 29, 2012 at 04:52 AM
They Lamberger, Belkengren, Etienne) did not address or respond to a single concern brought up by a room packed full of engaged, educated, and passionate parents of Richfield students, many who have already gathered to work towards passing one of three critical referendums facing the district in the next four years. I regret not standing up myself and sharing that in my research on "how to pass a referendum" it has clearly been stated in all strategies ( Parent's United for Public Schools) that it is the school boards responsiblity to consider the effect of every decision on the ability to pass any referendum up for renewal.
Caitlin Burgess (Editor) June 29, 2012 at 05:15 AM
@Lisa - Wow. Thanks for adding the photos!
David Haines June 29, 2012 at 05:40 AM
"Don't tell me we don't have any money!" - In my best Garage Logic impression. Really though, It's going to be really hard to ask cash-strapped residents for more of their money in a referendum. I'm not letting this board have any more of mine if this is how they are going to spend it. I'm really disappointed they all did not reconsider, and even more so in the members that still supported this but wouldn't even address the concerns brought up. It's cowardly in my opinion. YES, COWARDLY, Lamberger, Belkengren, and Etienne!
Tina Lavin June 29, 2012 at 01:46 PM
I think that the engaged parents and citizens of this city need remain energized and focus on getting the referendum passed. We need to be focused in our message that the upcoming referendum is critical to the basic operation of our schools. It is an investment into our community and our property values because lights or no lights as goes the quality of our schools so goes the quality of our city and property values. Passing the upcoming referendum is really about doing good by our children and for our community as a whole.
Caitlin Burgess (Editor) June 29, 2012 at 02:14 PM
That's a good point Tina. Personally, I think this decision won't necessarily have a ripple affect on voters. While many aren't happy about it, I doubt referendum supporters would retaliate by not voting for the it if it is really something they believe in. However, for those who typically aren't in support of a referendum, this will make it hard to convince them otherwise and likely affirm their decision to vote no. Two cents.
Veronica Bach-Dowd June 29, 2012 at 02:53 PM
PLEASE REMEMBER THIS NAMES AND TELL EVERYONE YOU KNOW TO NOT VOTE FOR THEM NEXT ELECTIONS: Lamberger, Belkengren and Etienne...i WILL DO THE SAME! Let's make our community stronger and better. I'm sick to my stomach but let's move forward and work together we need this coming referendum to pass, I know it will be a lot of work... Let's do this together!
jen June 29, 2012 at 02:55 PM
I agree with you about the referendum, CB. I am disappointed in some of the board members and will show that through my decisions of who to vote for for future board members, not by becoming anti-referendum. My fear is that there are voters who are on the fence, or who are anti-referendum to begin with and this decision can be used to point out that the school board allocates the limited funds they have in an irresponsible manner.
Kari Toensing June 29, 2012 at 03:57 PM
I do not agree with the board's decision, but I do agree with many of the commentors that if you are angry about the decision, take it on the elections, not on the referendum. Lamberger and Belkengren are up for re-election in 2013, Etienne in 2015. Although I disagree with the entire process, I would like to clarify that the money they plan to use to pay for the lights comes from money generated from the turf. This money is an unexpected windfall that could have been added to the operating budget. The school board does not intend to take funds directly out of the operating budget, but this is completely dependent on the turf continuing to generate funds. If the turf continues to generate money (and it appears that it will), that is where the money will come from. If the turf generates the anticipated amount of funds then the lights will not be paid for directly from the taxes collected via the levy. It is not how many of us would have utilized this unexpected windfall, but I think we should be clear that the lights should not (hopefully) be paid for with monies directly collected via taxes.
Mary Supple June 29, 2012 at 03:58 PM
And your real name is......? If you want to have any credibility, please use your real name and take responsibility for your comments. You will note that everyone else has signed his/her name.
Caitlin Burgess (Editor) June 29, 2012 at 04:54 PM
Here's the link to today's follow-up article with quotes on what was being said last night. http://patch.com/A-vCP0
Tina Lavin June 29, 2012 at 04:58 PM
I agree both with Kari and Jen's comments which is why it will be critical to stay on message to make it very clear the benefits that the referendum will provide - keep that message coming first and foremost. Also to remind the community that in general for the past 8-10 years the district has been very frugal and financial prudent, even winning some financial awards for their efforts. I don't think it's too early to start talking about board elections either! And to KEEP talking about them.
Caitlin Burgess (Editor) June 29, 2012 at 05:07 PM
Yes, Kari. All that is true about where the money is coming and that the board, even those members not in support of the lights, agrees that the revenue stream should be sustained in years to come.
Mary Supple June 29, 2012 at 07:56 PM
That seems reasonable.
Kent July 03, 2012 at 04:08 AM
The question I would ask is: For all the people who talk of not re-electing the school board members who is willing to run for office? We have 3 positions on the city council up for vote this year and only 1 ward has any challengers. It is hard to make changes when no one steps forward to try and change things. This is pretty common for Richfield and probably many other cities. I decided to run against a seasoned politician in ward 2 because I appreciated Fred Wroge and his desire to fully vet issues. He did not seem go be concerned about his re-election or next position, but rather getting to the root of the issue. If people want change then they need to make it happen. So again I ask: Who is going to step forward for the school board seats or we will be forced to accept those running?
Kent July 03, 2012 at 04:25 AM
Did I miss where this was brought before the city council? I would think they would need to approve the lighting before they can begin installation due to its impact on the neighbors, permits required, etc...
Teresa Kruse July 03, 2012 at 09:34 PM
Kent - we had 15 candidates for School Board last go-round with only three positions open. I'm pretty sure we'll have several candidates again this next year. Especially as the happenings this past week.

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