VENTNOR — The entire girls 10-12 softball team, 20 members strong, showed up in uniform Sept. 27 to ask the Ventnor Board of Education to approve the team’s use of the VECC gym during the holidays and inclement weather.
According to board members, the district’s tight budget may limit access to times to when custodians are on duty.
“I’m mad about it because they let us practice in the gym for several years now, and now they want to kick us out,” Ventnor Middle School fifth-grader Kendra Flournoy said.
Students marched into the auditorium with their coaches and patiently waited until it was their turn to speak during the public comment section of the meeting. Mia Rose Marota represented her teammates as she read a statement requesting continued use of the facility.
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The girls practice year-round and their hard work has paid off in the form of several championship titles, including the Babe Ruth Mid-Atlantic Regionals.
“It’s very important for us to have access to the VECC complex to be able to practice during these times,” Mia Rose said. “Practice has allowed us to compete at a high level. Saying no to the Ventnor Recreation Department is actually saying no to us.”
Jim Marota, who’s coached the team for seven years, said use of the building has been approved every year, and that this is the first year the team will not have access. He was informed by Recreation Director Jerry Thomas that the team would not have access to the Ventnor Educational Community Complex on holidays and weekends when the school is closed.
“In past years we have been able to use the school,” he said.
The team would like to use the building Oct. 9, during Thanksgiving break, Nov. 23-24 and winter break, Dec. 22 and 25-30, he said.
Board President James Pacanowski said the school district has “bent over backward for years” for the Recreation Department, but because of this year’s tight budget, it will not be able to pay to have custodial staff monitor the facilities when the building is closed.
“If we do have janitors and a black seal (boiler) operator, we will work with the Rec Department to provide access. But If we do not, someone will have to pay for that,” Pacanowski said.
Cost for janitorial staff should be transferred from the school district to the Rec Department or the city, Marota said.
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Board member Douglas Biagi, who is chief of police in Ventnor, said there seemed to be a lack of communication between the team, the Recreation Department and the board.
“Proper protocol was not followed,” he said.
Biagi said the team's presence at the meeting was the first the board had heard about the problem.
“I’ve been here 11 years. We’ve never said no,” he said.
Biagi said Thomas talked to the board last Tuesday “but gave us no clue this was an issue. It was bad paperwork, bad communication.”
District procedure calls for the Recreation Department to submit a facility use request that must be approved by the Board of Education. Thomas submitted one general-use request form for all recreation board programs, including sports and community education programs. The form had a hand-written notation at the bottom that said the school would be closed Dec. 26-30.
The application included a calendar of programs for October through December, including basketball, volleyball, wrestling, guitar, piano and dance, but softball was not listed.
The form states fees can be charged for use of the auditorium and gym for events that charge gate fees. The usage fees are $75 for the first four hours and $50 per hour after that. An additional $50-per-hour custodial fee can be charged for events held on Sundays or holidays when a custodian is not normally present in the building.
Coach Scott Hennis said the organization fundraises on its own to keep the program running and would not be able to pay the fee.
Facilities Supervisor Ron Fenton explained that the janitorial crew normally performs “deep cleaning” of the school during the holidays, which requires gating off areas to accommodate the use of ladders, forklifts and other heavy equipment.
The board unanimously agreed to revise a resolution to approve the rec board’s request to use both gyms, the cafeteria and the music room 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Monday to Friday from October through December. The amended resolution approved the facility use request for Columbus Day Oct. 9. The board held off approving dates in November and December.
The board also agreed to meet with Thomas and City Commissioner Tim Kriebel to work out the issue.
Thomas was unavailable for comment.
In a phone interview last Thursday, Kriebel said he has met with recreation and school officials on occasional schedule conflicts, and that he is concerned that the VECC is not open to the community as much as it could be.
“The city needs more community access in the complex,” he said.