A dangerous parking lot situation at Friday night football games is being addressed — while also helping raise funds for the WHRHS athletic programs — through a one-year trial program of “VIP parking passes.”
Athletic Director Bob Rodgers also received the School Committee’s backing to accept a $25,000 donation from the J.J. Frisoli Foundation toward the installation of a new scoreboard at the football field.
It was the idea of the parking passes that generated the most discussion. The School Committee unanimously approved both proposals.
“I’m not really about this as much about the revenue, although we can use every penny we get,” Rodgers said of the parking fee idea School Committee member Fred Small has been talking about for a couple of years. “My concern as the athletic director is safety.”
He said Friday night football games present a traffic nightmare of double-parking, parking in fire lanes and by fire hydrants, creating access problems for ambulances, no matter how many police officers there are working traffic details. Children running through the parking lot also present a dangerous situation, Rodgers said.
“I want to create an environment down there [in the lot in front of the football field known as the junior lot] where parking is a little bit more structured, a little safer … and we can make some money in the process,” he argued.
The proposal would make the entire 150-space junior lot VIP parking, either on a pre-paid permit basis, for $50 for the football season or for $10 per game. There is ample free parking elsewhere on school grounds and the seniors’ lot to the left front of the school is actually a shorter walk to the field than some of the junior lot spaces.
He will also offer football parents a parking pass for $30 above the user fee. Handicapped placards will allow motorists to park there free of charge.
“I’m trying to convince myself to vote for this,” said School Committee member Robert Trotta, who was concerned about angering the community. “It’s like fee, fee, fee, fee, fee. [But] I understand the purpose.”
School Committee member Dan Cullity was concerned about the fairness of asking taxpayers to pay for parking at the school that their tax dollars support.
Rodgers countered that they are already charged admission to the game and school plays.
“It comes down to safety,” he said. Signs and hired parking lot details would direct motorists and enforce paid parking restrictions.
School Committee member Alexandria Taylor asked if a game/parking fee package was considered, but Rodgers said it would make his accounting to the auditors more complicated at this point.
“At least right now that’s not something I want to do,” he said. “I don’t know how this is going to go. We can try it for a year and, if we don’t like it, we can undo it.”
“Between safety and revenue, I’m all for trying it this year,” School Committee member Michael Jones said.
Regarding the scoreboard, Rodgers said a new one is needed. His request to the School Committee was in three parts: acceptance of a $25,000 donation from the Frisoli Foundation toward a new scoreboard; allow him to obtain sponsors for scoreboard ads; and give Rodgers, new Principal Dr. Christopher Jones and new Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Szymaniak authority to contract with advertisers on the scoreboard.
The total cost is estimated in the $50,000 range.
“There are 36 panels in that current scoreboard we have that is quite old,” he said. “Each [panel] costs between $1,600 and $2,000 and we’ve already had to replace four of them.”
The main panel, showing the minute number, has just failed and must be replaced if the old scoreboard is kept. There are also frequency problems between the controller and scoreboard.
“Bottom line is we need a new scoreboard,” he said, and it was not a high enough priority for the capital plan. Rodgers, therefore, began working on obtaining one without the school district or towns having to pay.
A $25,000 donation has been secured from the Frisoli Foundation, named for W-H alum and football and wrestling standout J.J. Frisoli. To pay any up-front costs, no matter what scoreboard is purchased, Rodgers said he would have to use the athletic revolving account, reimbursing it when the sustaining advertising revenue comes in.
“His name will be on the scoreboard at some point,” Rodgers said. “He represented the ideals that we want here at W-H.”
There are also two advertising panels, for which sponsors are currently negotiating with Rodgers, and two additional sponsored ad panels would also be included, as well as a four-foot-by-10-foot video panel.
Rodgers said the video panel “which is going to open so many doors for us to be able to raise revenue” for the athletic program, which one of the lowest-funded — if not the lowest-funded — programs in the Patriot League. Among services not funded are uniforms, officials, buses, athletic trainers and equipment.
Advertisers would have to meet School Committee policy standards opposing ads that discriminate against any group or promote the use of tobacco or alcohol, and must be approved by the superintendent and principal at rates set by the School Committee.
“We really don’t want to raise user fees because, frankly, a lot of families can’t afford that,” Rodgers said. “This scoreboard … could be a sustainable source of revenue moving forward.”
He also argued the video screen could be a safety consideration, permitting important messages on where to park or where safety officers are when it is hard to hear the public address system. Postive messages on sportsmanship and student-athletes’ work on community projects could also be posted there, Rodgers said.
The scoreboard would also be relocated to a more visible location.
Youth sports groups would be able to use the scoreboard, and perhaps a scroll of pre-recorded sportsmanship messages on the video screen, but not live use of the screen.