By Tom Bartley
Unregistered voters in the Hastings-on-Hudson school district have one more day, Thursday, to sign up to take part in this month’s hotly debated $8.1 million bond referendum.
Polling on the controversial bond issue, set for Oct. 22, will climax weeks of impassioned rhetoric—and sometimes, it appears, petty larceny—on both sides.
The bond money, plus a half-million dollars in capital reserve-fund cash, would buy $8.6 million in repairs, replacements and upgrades proposed for the district’s three schools.
But more than half of the bond’s proceeds would go to a major overhaul of athletic facilities at the high school. The school board plan envisions such things as a new track, a six-lane, 400-meter regulation oval, allowing Hastings to host home meets. Along with replacing the worn, nonstandard track, the renovation would add sites for field events like pole vaulting, high jump and shot put; 15-foot pole lighting ringing the track; and refinished tennis courts. The playground and one tennis court would be moved to accommodate the new track. Those and a few other athletic-area projects would cost more than $3.2 million, a large enough sum in itself to inspire serious discussion.
Nevertheless, the fault line along which so much of Hastings has divided is the high school’s Reynolds Field, serving until now as a natural-grass gridiron or other competitive arena. Under the upgrade plan, however, the school board has ticketed the field for a $1.3 million synthetic-surface future. More than any other provision in the bond, the proposed change to an artificial turf football field—from Geo Turf USA, with a natural fill of cork and coconut husks—has become a rallying point for partisans on both sides of the bond question.
They exhort potential voters in every way they can, from old-fashioned lawn signs to the latest social media and Internet messaging.
“Vote NO now so we can vote YES on a better bond,” the Save Reynolds Field website urges visitors.
“The board is presenting its costly field plan as the only option for Hastings voters. Only by voting down the bond,” the site explains, “will voters get a chance to consider a more-responsible, balanced and less-expensive plan.”
On the opposing side, bond backers also rally support. “Engage your friends and neighbors,” the Say YES To the Bond site suggests. “Encourage them to support this initiative.”
Arguing that turf installations have proved themselves elsewhere, the site asserts, “More than HALF of Westchester public school districts have successfully already converted at least one athletic field to synthetic turf to allow for increased usage.”
The cyberspace competition leverages Facebook and Twitter. Earthbound messaging, for its part, relies on a longtime staple of political advertising: campaign signs—on lawns, poles and porches, in windows and on fences—appealing for the support of passersby.
In this latest battle of Hastings, however, the signs themselves have become casualties, missing and presumed stolen. Hastings police said residents on both sides of the bond issue began complaining late last month that signs had been filched from their property.
Voting is scheduled to run from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the high school gym. Special registration, for school district residents who are not registered to cast a ballot in general elections, will be conducted in the high school lobby, One Mount Hope Blvd., on Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and again on Thursday, Oct. 17, from 4 to 8 p.m. It will qualify those residents to vote only in the referendum, not general elections, which requires registering with the Board of Elections.