SCOREBOARD Cochrane Stadium to be closed through September, maybe longer High schools scurry for alternative sites to practice, play football

High school football practices officially began late last week, but for seven schools located in Jersey City, the season has begun without a place to call home for practices and eventually to play.

That’s because Caven Point’s Cochrane Stadium, the home field for Jersey City’s high school football teams, has yet to receive the necessary improvements since it was determined that the location had a higher level of lead contamination than is allowed by law.

The facility was ordered closed by state officials back in late March, until a proper remediation plan could be put into place, with the old artificial turf surface being removed and a new FieldTurf surface being installed.

Since the field was ordered shut down in the spring, nothing has been held there. Nor has anything been done. The high school baseball season went on without a true home base for the Jersey City schools and it actually went on without a glitch, using sites such as Lincoln Park as alternatives.

But the same cannot be said for football. You can’t simply play high school football games anywhere. You need a site with bleacher seating, locker rooms, a functioning scoreboard, and sufficient parking.

That’s why Caven Point has been so essential to the Jersey City high schools. It’s the home field, both for practice and for games, for all of the four public high schools, as well as St. Peter’s Prep, Hudson Catholic, and St. Anthony, which reaches varsity football status this fall.

Back in May, we were the first to report that the situation at Caven Point’s Cochrane Stadium was far more serious than what was initially reported.

Here’s what was written in the May 11th edition of SCOREBOARD in the Hudson Reporter:

There is no way possible that the facility’s soil can undergo an extensive remediation and then, the subsequent installation of a new playing surface, more than likely the safer FieldTurf variety, by the time that the start of football season rolls around in September.

No matter how much a positive spin that the Board of Education officials can place on it, there’s simply not enough time to get that kind of a job done – and there aren’t enough funding sources to fit the estimated $2.5 million bill.

So officials met last week to determine the next course of action and possibly make contingency plans to find alternative sites to play football in the fall.

Well, that rumored tidbit has now become reality, because there are reports now that no matter what the City of Jersey City (which, for some reason, has become the driving force and leader behind the Caven Point cleanup) and the Jersey City Board of Education (the actual owner of the property) decides to do about the situation, the work cannot be completed for the start of the regular season next month.

Sure, there are plans to put down the FieldTurf surface, but even that was botched. A contractor was hired, then the deal was pulled off the table by the City Council because apparently the bid process to find the contractor was nullified. Apparently, a lower bid was officially submitted than the one approved, so that set the entire process back to the drawing board.

And that delay has now cost the Jersey City schools some invaluable time; time that will force the local schools to play the first few weeks of the regular season on the road.

Hudson Catholic has already secured a deal to play its home opener at Kane Stadium in Secaucus. While St. Peter’s Prep doesn’t need to play a home game for the first three weeks (playing at Giants Stadium against St. Joseph of Montvale, then on the road to Maryland to play Our Lady of Good Counsel and then North Bergen on Sept. 26), the Marauders’ first scheduled home game is Oct. 4 against Dickinson.

If Caven Point is not repaired by that time, the Marauders will more than likely reschedule to play at Hoboken’s JFK Stadium.

But what do the Jersey City public schools do? There has been some talk of using the new FieldTurf facility in Lincoln Park, but there are no amenities at that site, like bleachers, a scoreboard, a press box, even parking and restroom facilities.

If you ask officials about the status of Caven Point, you might get three different answers. In fact, early last week, some city officials said that the improvements would be completed in time for the start of the season and others refuted those words later on.

And if you ask the Board of Education, you won’t get an answer at all, because no one is willing to speak on the matter. This columnist did receive return phone calls from Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy’s staff concerning the matter – especially since there was confusion as to why the city was taking the lead in the situation when the city doesn’t own the facility and the Board of Education does.

When Caven Point was closed down in March, this columnist received word that the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) would not sign off on the lead contamination at Caven Point until there was a complete remediation, like tilling the entire area, capping it properly, and then putting down the new FieldTurf surface.

The official from the state DEP put a price tag of approximately $3 million to complete the work, which is a figure that the Jersey City Board of Education simply could not afford to dish out.

Healy’s staff said that they did not know of any such DEP report or such a hefty cost for a complete remediation of the site. The city and the Board of Education have been throwing around figures like $1.2 million, but that’s just to rip up the old artificial turf and lay down the new FieldTurf.

However, there is one major error here. If either the Board of Education or the City of Jersey City or both knew that there was going to have to be a major renovation and rehabilitation project set for Caven Point, why in the world did they wait six whole months to do any work whatsoever?

Why not get the ball rolling in March, when the field was known for a fact to be contaminated and just perhaps, it might have been completed by now?

Because sitting on their collective hands has done nothing, except send the schools scurrying for alternative sites to first practice and then play games.

Here’s the other point that may come to fruition and then again, may not.

There are some people who believe that the Board of Education sat on their hands because they knew that the owners of the new Liberty National Golf Course, the high-priced, luxury course located directly adjacent to Caven Point, would want to purchase the land to build homes there that would be attached to the golf course.

Well, if there was a deal being discussed to sell the property to Dan and Paul Fireman, the chief executives of Fireman Capital Partners that own Liberty National, then why not tell everyone up front, like the schools who depend upon the use of Caven Point, that there was a land deal in the works.

So who knows what to believe?

Is Caven Point in serious lead contamination, one that goes beyond the topsoil?

Is the Board of Education in negotiations with Fireman Capital to sell the land at Caven Point?

And if Caven Point’s Cochrane Stadium is to remain an athletic facility, when will it be ready? Late September? October? Ever?

One thing is for sure right now: High school football practices began this week in earnest and the Jersey City schools have no home field to play on.

And if it really only took having the old turf ripped up and a new FieldTurf surface being put down, then in all honesty, it should have been done by now. The work should have begun in early April, not early August.

And even now, in early August, still nothing has been done. It’s one giant fiasco – one that someone really is going to have to answer to, except that no one involved with the Jersey City Board of Education is willing to speak about it. Or anything else, for that matter.


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