Turn out the lights, the party’s over before it even started. Now the cold hard reality of fixing leaky roofs and repairing sidewalks is about to come to the forefront for the West Windsor-Plainsboro school district.##M:[more]##

“I would say that for the time being (the football light proposal) is dead,” says West Windsor-Plainsboro board member Henry Wieck. “It just isn’t the time. In order for there to be another time there would have to be an intersection of board and public interest. I don’t know when that would be.”

At its meeting on January 11, the school board rejected a proposal by the High School North football booster club to donate the purchase and installation of field lights for the high school football field.

The board voted 8-1 against the proposal, which was just a first step in the process of getting field lights at High School North. A Plainsboro resident, Wieck made the initial motion that called for district administration to work with the booster club to come up with an workable plan for the project and he was the lone vote in favor of the proposal.

During the discussion at the meeting, several board members said that focusing further on the lighting question would distract both the board and administration from what was called a long list of deficiencies in the district’s facilities — both old and new. “There are some items in every one of the schools,” says Wieck. “A lot of planning needs to go on.”

But while he is not pleased with the results of the board’s vote on the lighting question, Wieck is philosophical. “I’m satisfied that the board has removed the initiative from something that was in a state of limbo where people would continue to put effort to one where the board expressed its opinion in public,” he says. “Though it probably should have happened sooner, at least everyone knows where they stand now.”

For over two years, West Windsor resident Pete Weale has been attempting to bring permanent lighting to the football field at High School North at no cost to the district. Last summer Weale was joined in his efforts by Kevin Chapman and the Northern Knights Booster Club. Chapman submitted a revised proposal to the school board seeking approval of the installation of the lights, addressing such issues as costs savings, potential for additional revenue, alternative uses for the lighted field, safety concerns, equity issues between the two high schools, and neighborhood opposition.

During the public comment portion of the January 11 meeting prior to the vote, a number parents who have children attending High School South spoke out against the proposal, questioning its cost savings and saying that improvements to the High School South were a more pressing concern. Other parents spoke in favor of the proposal, including emphasis on the value of Friday night games, where students would have a place to go and have fun in a safe environment.

Ultimately, the consensus of the board was that administration resources are currently stretched too thin trying to address other more pressing issues for the district and time spent on the field lights proposal would detract from its attention on other projects.

Linda Geevers, a board member from West Windsor and head of the board’s Administration and Facilities committee — a committee charged with reviewing facilities issues — says it’s time for the district to focus on these important needs. “We have a long list of priorities and we must stay focused,” she says. This includes items at High School South, which — as one of the district’s older buildings — has long been plagued with a host of facilities in need of repair or replacement.

Geevers says that the list of facilities needs will likely be officially presented to the board sometime in February. “We will see that we need to spend more money on facilities that the annual budget is not going be able to cover,” she says. This includes several big ticket needs.

The most immediate need is for a new roof at Community Middle School. “The roof needs to be replaced and it is a very expensive project,” says Geevers. “The longer you wait to do the work, the more damage will be done, and that means the more expensive it will be to take care of the problem.”

According to Geevers, the cost of repairing the roof at Community Middle School would likely take up nearly the total amount budgeted for facilities improvement projects across the district. “As we look at the numbers in the coming weeks it will become more clear that we will probably need to have a referendum.” Geevers is unsure whether that referendum would be up for a vote on Tuesday, April 19 at the same time as the school budget and school board vote.

Geevers says that with so many critical issues facing the district. “The majority wants the administration to spend every extra minute on projects that absolutely need to be done,” she says. “Let’s focus on what we need to do first, instead of a wish or wants list.”

But while not discounting the importance of the facilities problems, Wieck takes another point of view on the football lighting question. “I tend to think we can do it all, and I wish for a different outcome,” he says. “When can opportunity arises, I think you need to take advantage of it. But the board felt it would be a distraction.”

While Geevers is not closing the book on possibly supporting permanent lights at High School North, she says it was just not the right time. “We want to encourage members to give gifts and we certainly appreciate their efforts,” she says. “Maybe its a project for the future.”

Calling All School Board Candidates

Have you ever wanted to have a major impact on how the WW-P School District is run? Then now is the time to think about becoming a school board member.

Board members are elected for three-year terms. To be included on this year’s ballot, a prospective candidate must obtain the signatures of at least 10 voters living in the district and file a petition at least 50 days prior to the election

A candidate kit can be obtained at the district’s central office at 505 Village Road West. The deadline to file a nominating petition is 4 p.m. on Monday, February 28. The election will be held on Tuesday, April 19. For more information, contact the Central Office, 609-716-5000, ext. 5020.