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Fundraising Efforts for Manasquan's $2.9M Dream Field Held in Question

Officials say apparent $300,000 pledge from Alumni Association not a done deal

Manasquan School District's efforts to raise money for its $3 million proposed sports field project has been hampered by miscommunication and misinformation, officials said Tuesday. 

The Alumni Association endowment fund that district officials had believed was willing to commit nearly $300,000 to the four-phase project apparently had never committed a hard-dollar amount, according to information presented by School Board President Michelle LaSala at Tuesday's board meeting. 

On Friday, LaSala by telephone said that the endowment was waiting to receive clear direction from the board on which of the three plans proposed last summer it was supporting.

"In all fairness, they've made great efforts, and on the board side of it, since the project started, there's never been a clear direction given to [the endowment] from the board," LaSala said. 

In June, Thomas Bauer, chair of the board's Buildings and Grounds Committee, presented three options to the public: a $300,000 plan to eliminate the cinder track at the High School and redo the sports fields with natural grass; a $650,000 plan to eliminate the track and build a synthetic turf football field; and a $2.9 million plan rolled-out in four phases that would include new baseball and softball fields and lighting at the Elementary School, and a new regulation track, synthetic turf football field and bleachers at the High School. 

At that time, Bauer said the endowment had pledged roughly $300,000 to help fund the project. 

However, several questions remain as to which option the board will move forward on and how exactly any of them would be funded. 

"There may be some contingencies on that money based on who donated what and what plan we were going with," LaSala said Tuesday. "When we presented it to the public, I did not know that."

LaSala said that when the three options were presented in June, there was an understanding the project would receive a certain amount of money from the endowment fund, "which we since learned that may not be the case." 

"I think there have been a lot of missteps with the field project," Board Member Patricia Walsh said. "I've been a professional fundraiser for longer than I'd like to admit, and it is very difficult to raise funds for a program that you have no idea what it is. And until this board makes a decision as to what the project it's going to put forth, it's going to continue to be very difficult for the endowment to assist us with that effort." 

Another snag in the fundraising efforts came to light Tuesday when officials said the endowment recently asked the district to remove a banner at the highschool publicizing the field project. 

"Their concern was that they were raising funds for mulitple things, not just the field," said Margaret Hom, board secretary and district business administrator. "So they did not want it to appear that the only thing on their plate was the field." 

Some board members had a different interpretation. 

"It seems they use this medium to raise money. They weren't successful for whatever number of reasons -- the economy, let's call it. But now they just want to take the banner down, and maybe that's also taking hope down," Shelton said. 

Shelton added that the field project could be "distracting" from the endowment's other fundraising efforts, which, officials said, include scholarships. 

"If the Endowment Association, which actually said they were doing this big hoopla to raise money for a field project -- they just didnt raise it, and now the field project, I think, is distracting from their fundraising efforts. That seems a little bit reverse to me," Board Member Mike Shelton said. 

LaSala said that some members of the community were wrongly led to believe the field project was already a done deal. 

"I spoke to a lot of people [who said] that is was almost like a movie theater coming attraction -- people thought this was done, they didn't realize that we were still raising money for it," LaSala said.

LaSala said she would like to go back to the endowment to iron out the details. 

"There's been a disconnect from day one between the [endowment] and the Board of Education," LaSala said. "I'm not pointing a finger at either us or them, but I think there was just not a real open line of communication and I think that's what we need to restart." 

Officials on Tuesday weren't even sure who owned the banner -- the Alumni Association or the district. 

"Do we want to take it down? Do we want to wait until we find out who owns it?" LaSala asked. 

Members also agreed to consult the district's sports coaches, which until this date were never asked their input, before moving any further. 

"We've never spoke as a board with the coaches that are going to be using the field to get their input and what their ideas are," LaSala said. 

Questions regarding the banner's owner and level of support from the endowment fund, LaSala said, must be answered. 

"I think we need to get answers to those questions before we make any decisions," LaSala said. "This board can't pick a plan if we don't know what we're working with."

The board decided to table discussion until those questions are answered. 

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