After careful evaluation by the Township Council, the interlocal services agreement was determined to represent the best value for the residents of the community for a variety of reasons - most having to do with using existing infrastructure (lights, bleachers, parking lots, etc), and allowing the investment to be used throughout the day.
In January, Evesham Township took an extraordinary step to promote the sharing of services between local governments and school districts. I am pleased share the story of Evesham Township’s agreement with the Lenape Regional High School District for a shared multipurpose synthetic turf field.
A Pressing Need Upon taking office, my colleagues on the Council and I were aware of the pressing need for new multipurpose playing fields in the township. Given the unique features of our geography, such as being in the Pinelands Region and having generally high water tables, our existing field inventory was not keeping up with the demand for playing time. Understanding that decisions are best made through the sharing of information, a Recreation Summit of stakeholders was organized to explore the best possible way to address the community’s needs in an efficient manner.
Our township, like many others in New Jersey, was operating in silos. Communication and the sharing of common or new goals was nonexistent among the entities that serve the township residents. So as part of our campaign promise we conducted a Recreation Summit.
A Recreation Summit The Recreation Summit included many others, myself, our two school superintendents, school board members of both sending districts, leadership from our Recreation Council and various township recreation department employees.
Through our Recreation Summit meetings, a concept emerged for a shared synthetic turf facility. After comparing potential schedules, the study group honed in on the primary athletic field at Cherokee High School in Evesham where the investment would be easily accessible throughout the day to students and then available for local recreation programs in the early evenings. The availability of existing lights and surface durability meant township recreation programs could consistently be programmed through the playing seasons. Further, thanks to the more durable surface, this field would no longer be off limits to the student body, as it often is in preparation for official team events.
A major factor that came into play with our decision making was the large number of young men and women participating in the high school sports programs and the Marlton Recreation Council programs. Combined, these numbers exceed 6,000 participants. Due to the poor conditions of some existing grass fields, teams were left with nowhere to play or practice.
Township professionals who were part of the Recreation Summit pointed out the possibility of an agreement through the Interlocal Services Act (NJSA 40:8A-1), which is the legal mechanism to formalize these types of arrangements. Through the Recreation Summit and the direction of the Township Council, our professionals got busy hammering out the details of an agreement, which readers can view on our web site at www.evesham-nj.gov.
The old field shows some signs of wear around the center and the edge.
Choosing an Interlocal Services Agreement After careful evaluation by the Township Council, the interlocal services agreement was determined to represent the best value for the residents of the community for a variety of reasons - most having to do with using existing infrastructure (lights, bleachers, parking lots, etc), and allowing the investment to be used throughout the day. For example, our analysis indicated that a township field is used primarily in the evening hours. Since the school district typically completes their usage by the time our recreation program starts, and the fields are significantly more durable than grass, the shared artificial field would be an investment that would benefit the whole community.
Of course a project of this magnitude has many points of interest. I and other council members have been asked questions by concerned residents. These are the two most commonly asked:
How is the Township going to pay for the fields? The Evesham Open Space and Recreation Trust Fund is voter approved and a dedicated 3-cent tax. The annual debt service on the recreation bond will be paid from this existing fund. In addition, we have begun an aggressive sponsorship campaign to offset some of the costs. As stated in the Interlocal Agreement, Evesham has the rights to sell advertising around the stadium and naming rights. Voters previously voted down a 5.8 million dollar Lenape Regional High School District referrendum to put multi-surface facilities at all four sending high schools that would have raised taxes. I want to make this perfectly clear, we will do this project without a tax increase!
How can we be sure that our residents and children be able to use the new multi-surface facility? The benefits of this facility are far reaching. The Cherokee High School students will be using the facility during the day for gym classes, band practices, various sport practices and games. This surface will be able to accommodate four sports: football, soccer, lacrosse and field hockey. Pursuant to the contract, Evesham’s programs will have access to the field for a guaranteed MINIMUM of 20 hours a week. Averaged out over 52 weeks this contract gives a MINIMUM of 1,040 hours of usage. We all must not lose sight of the fact that every student that goes to Cherokee is also a Marlton resident.
Through this project, we have learned that the boundaries of shared services have yet to be fully explored. We look forward to finding more ways to return maximum value to our residents through other innovative shared services agreements.
Evesham Township is located in Burlington County and is home to approximately 50,000 people spread over 30 square miles. Our landscape features vast areas of open space within the Pinelands Region, outstanding commercial areas along the Route 70 and 73 Corridor, and great neighborhoods in between served by a first class municipal workforce. To many, our community is known as Marlton, a reference to the greenish and poor draining clay subsoil in the region