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Relay for Life Event Threatened by Turf Project

February 25, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

By Jesse Reilly
The Public Spirit

Cancer survivors participate in last year's Relay for Life at Hatters Stadium. - File - (Montgomery Media)

Although nothing has been decided, this year’s organizers of the Eastern Montgomery County Relay for Life feel like they are being asked to do the impossible.

“Moving Relay is not like moving a peewee football game,” Betsy Williams, a teacher at Crooked Billet Elementary School and organizer of the event, said. “It’s like moving the Super Bowl.”

The organizers concerns come after the Hatboro-Horsham School Board’s meeting Feb. 22, where it was decided that the district would begin the permitting process and go out to bid on a project to turf the Hatters Stadium’s field, where the event has been held the past five years.

If the board decides to move forward with the project this year, construction would have to begin before school let out this June.

“The board elected to explore what the actual cost of the project would be,” Superintendent Curtis Griffin said. “Once the costs come back in then we could think about establishing a timeline.”

Griffin estimates that the bids should come in within the next month.

“I don’t want to get the cart before the horse,” he said. “This is a time for us to have conversations and possibly work on contingency plans … it’s not a time to panic.”

But in a month, Relay for Life will be less than two months away, which does not leave the organizers enough time to find a new venue and possibly book it.

“This is a logistical nightmare,” Williams said.

The event attracts about 1,000 people and has raised more than $1 million for the American Cancer Society while it was held at the stadium, which the district allows the Society use for free.

The relay-ers, Williams said, are grateful for the five years they have been given, but are concerned that a change at this stage of the game could, in the worst case scenario, end the 2011 Relay for Life.

“You have been wonderful and generous beyond what we could ask for and we are very grateful,” she said in a statement given to the school board. “We are respectfully and humbly asking you please reconsider the start date.”

Although she’s trying to stay optimistic, it’s hard to ignore the reality of the situation, she said.

“Relay-ers always find a way to make things work, but I worry that this is just the relay-er in me,” Williams said. “With everything so uncertain right now I just don’t know. If we don’t have Relay this year I know we’re going to die trying.”

The major issue with moving the event is finding another venue and coming up with the money to reserve it.

“We just were not anticipating this cost,” Williams said. “The money that we’re going to have to use for a venue could have gone to families and patient services, it’s just heartbreaking.”

Although nothing is definite Griffin said to have the field ready for use for the fall season, which beings in mid-August, construction would have to begin before school got out this year.

“It could affect graduation and Relay for Life and if we decided to move forward we would sit down and make some decisions,” he said. “Maybe there could be a way to alter the timeline or halt work for the events.”

The project was estimated to cost about $800,000 several years ago, and even though he doesn’t have any actual numbers, Griffin said he believed that to be a conservative number.

“That figure didn’t take into consideration the prepping of the area,” he said. “But, because of the economy a number of turf projects have come in way under what they used to be.”

Whatever the amount is, the superintendent said the funds would not come from general fund that covers annual budgetary costs.

“It’s a tough balancing act,” Griffin said of the economic times. “We are looking at all the projects that need to be done and trying to figure out which is the right one to do at this time.”

The turf project may be leading the pack because, Griffin said, the district is hoping to increase the safety of its fields for students and the school’s athletic programs currently exceed the field space.

“We’ve had to hold practices on the blacktop, township fields, and some teams have even had to rent other space,” he said.

There district passed a $5 million bond issue several years ago and one of the projects to be completed with that money was a turf field.

“There are dollars in the capital reserve fund for this project,” he said, adding that in addition to the fund the district is also looking in to a number of other funding possibilities.

Until bids come back it looks as though Relay may remain in limbo.

“We’re going to look into backup plans and we are basically begging anyone who can help us to help,” Williams said. “It’s a concerning situation to be in.”

Republished with the permission of The Public Spirit/Globe Times Chronicle

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