By Jason Laday South Jersey Times
Members of the Brandemarti family are stepping back from a proposal that would see a new football field house donated to West Deptford High School, asking that the new facility not be named in honor of Nick Brandemarti, who was killed in 9/11.
The proposal — first pitched to the board of education in late January by former BOE member Ed Haughton and former West Deptford soccer coach John Cobb — was met Monday night with tough questions from members of both the board of education and the public. Those who were weary of the plan noted the costs involved in maintaining such a field house, as well as Haughton’s and Cobb’s reported insistence that the facility be used only by the football team.
“There were people who were believing that the Brandemarti Foundation was raising money and building the field house, but that isn’t the case, and we don’t want people thinking that — so we’ve asked them not to name it after [Nick],” said Jason Brandemarti, younger brother to the late West Deptford graduate and local star football player. “We were thinking of donating to it, but we have the same questions everyone else has.”
Nick Brandemarti Sr., who also attended the BOE meeting, added “We don’t want to go in with anything that’s going to be an extra burden on the school district.”
According to BOE member Brian Gotchel, citing figures from the district engineer, heating and electric costs would total roughly $4,000 to $5,000 per year for the planned 4,000-square-foot facility.
Saturday janitorial work at the field house would cost less than $4,200 in additional overtime pay, he added.
There would be no additional liability insurance cost.
Those behind the proposal say they can build the field house, which would include locker rooms, showers, laundry facilities and equipment storage, for between $230,000 and $260,000.
While BOE President Chris Strano stressed that Monday was the first time the full board has had a discussion on the plan, some residents and BOE members criticized what they saw as a lack of details about the long-term costs of the field house as well as funding for the project and whether it is even legal under federal Title 9 regulations.
“I’m not comfortable with this unless I see the cost estimate in writing,” said BOE member Ginny Brockway. “Because then they can say ‘Oh, we didn’t raise enough money,’ and we could be stuck with an unfinished building, or we have to go to the taxpayers.”
In addition, some members questioned how the district could commit to maintaining the field house when it’s finances already stretched so thin.
“I attended a four-hour budget meeting where we talked about whether we could afford a $5,000 computer program for students,” said BOE member Kate Cargill. “I’m not voting on anything without numbers attached to it.”
Newly sworn in Dave Kline concurred.
“We’re getting rid of programs for third and fourth graders, and those weren’t huge numbers,” he said. “These aren’t huge numbers either, but they can add up to a lot.”
Still others questioned why the field house must be reserved only for the benefit of the high school football team, and why those who have drawn up the plans and will donate the building are resistant to adding female bathrooms.
“We have to see how this will affect our other athletes,” said Brockway. “It seems like football gets everything.
“Is it fair to tell our other athletes you stay here in these old locker rooms, which are deplorable and in need of repair, while the football team gets the Ritz Carlton?”
BOE member Lisa Eckley stated, as proposed, the field house would only benefit 11 percent of the high school student body, and would remain unused for six months of the school year.
“Why do something that’s so exclusive, for all the time and effort that is being put to this,” she said.
There is also the question of Title 9 regulations, which require schools that provide facilities for male students to also provide equal facilities for female students.
The BOE is still waiting from its counsel an opinion on whether the field house would violate the federal mandate.
“That’s the big X factor,” said BOE member Peter Guzzetti. “I would love to accept the donation, but we have to figure that out first.”
Guzzetti was one of those vocally in favor of the proposal.
“A group wants to give us a field house,” he said. “That doesn’t come around every day.”
According to Strano, every member of the BOE has asked that the field house be “multi-sport,” but the organizers have been reluctant.
“The current proposal can still change, though,” said Strano. “Compromises happen.”