By Kevin Coughlin
The 2016 Morristown High School football season will test fans as much as players.
Bleachers at Memorial Field have been deemed unsafe and spectators may be asked to bring their own chairs to the first two home games. If that doesn’t work out, the Colonials will play their last three “home” games at Madison High School, school officials told MorristownGreen.com on Monday.
The Morris School District board has allocated $1 million from its capital reserve fund to demolish and replace the stands, which are more than 80 years old on the home team side, said district Superintendent Mackey Pendergrast.
School officials hope the new stands can be ready by next spring.
At the same time, they are considering a broader overhaul of the sports complex, perhaps with a fund-raising campaign similar to one that led to installation of a $786,000 synthetic turf field in 2010.
“This is an opportunity to enhance the complex,” Pendergrast said. “We’re looking at everything. We’re certainly exploring expanding it.” New bathrooms and fencing could be part of the redesign, he said.
Moving home games to Madison will hinge on safety concerns; the Colonials will stay put as long as the public “can safely and adequately enjoy the game in a safe fashion,” Pendergrast said.
‘NOT FIT FOR A LARGE CROWD’
Cracks were discovered in the foundation of the home bleachers in the spring, he said. Architectural engineers were summoned, and they determined the stands “clearly were not fit for a large crowd,” the superintendent said.
“Looking at the visitors’ side, those stands were not considered safe,” either, he added.
“The biggest part is the demolition. There is a tremendous amount of concrete” to remove, Pendergrast noted.
Complicating matters is an underground brook.
The district’s consultants have contacted the state Department of Environmental Protection, which has not determined yet whether any state permits are required, said DEP spokesman Larry Hajna.
Smitty Horton, starting his second year as athletic director for Morristown High, said the visiting stands will be dismantled before the Sept. 10, 2016, opener against Roxbury, to create more space for fans on a hillside and walkway.
“We may rely on fans to bring chairs from home,” Horton said.
A temporary scaffold or motorized “scissors-lift” may be used by football broadcasters, because the press box is out of commission, the athletic director said.
The 80-member Colonials marching band may be relocated behind one of the end zones.
“We’ll have to use our pit crew a lot,” said Doug Rutan, assistant band director. “We’re used to traveling on the road in competitions. Guess we’ll be doing more of that.”
Visiting bands could be out of luck, however. Horton said he will ask them if they are willing to perform pre-game shows in Morristown and then “get back on the bus and head back to their place.”
All of this comes as a new coach, John Power, is trying to turn around a varsity team that went 3-7 last year.
And it’s happening at a high school that already is the scene of considerable construction. A new wing is scheduled to open next month, stands are being replaced in both gyms, and a student parking lot abutting the football practice field will get more than 100 new spaces this fall.
Years of careful spending have created a reserve for such contingencies, Pendergrast said.
“Nothing is set in stone,” he said, referring to the sports complex.
“Right now we’re in the formative stages of reviewing all our possible options, what our needs are. We’d like to create a state-of-the-art, fantastic athletic complex. But there are always limits on finances. We have to balance all the factors.”
MHS Colonials Varsity Schedule 2016, as of Aug. 15, 2016
(Home games in BOLD)
HOME VENUE SUBJECT TO CHANGE!
Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016
Scrimmage 11 AM Saint Joseph’s Metuchen, Morristown Turf Field
Friday, Aug. 26
Scrimmage 10 AM Away vs. Summit Summit High School, 8:30 AM
Friday, Sept. 2
Scrimmage 4 PM Away vs. Passaic Valley, Passaic Valley High School
Saturday, Sept. 10
Game 2 PM Roxbury High School, Morristown Turf Field
Friday, Sept. 16
Game 7 PM Away vs. Randolph Township School District, Randolph High School
Saturday, Sept. 24
Game 1 PM West Morris Central, Morristown Turf Field
Saturday, Oct. 1
Game 2 PM Away vs. Columbia Columbia High School
Saturday, Oct. 8
Game 1 PM West Orange, Morristown Turf Field
Saturday, Oct. 15
Game 1 PM Montclair ,Morristown Turf Field
Friday, Oct. 21
Game 7 PM Away vs. Livingston, Livingston High School
Saturday, Oct. 29
Game 1 PM Away vs. East Orange Campus, East Orange Campus High School
Saturday, Nov. 5
Game 2 PM Bloomfield, Morristown Turf Field