Voters in South River dealt a big blow to their high school’s football and other athletic teams Tuesday, rejecting a $5.5 million dollar referendum that would have replaced the now-shuttered Bill Denny Stadium, replaced the natural grass surface with artificial turf, and built a new concession stand on the site.
Now, the Board of Education has to go back to Step One.
In a statement provided to Central Jersey Sports Radio Thursday afternoon, Schools Superintendent Dr. Sylvia Zircher said, “The South River School Board and administration are disappointed in the results of the referendum question. This was a close vote and we know many of our community members share this disappointment.”
The referendum was defeated by a mere 104 votes out of 2,456 cast, by a 1,280 to 1,176 margin, with under 23-percent voter turnout.
“The intent of the referendum was to increase accessibility by converting the field to a multi-sport co-ed facility, provide our athletes equal conditions to their peers across the county, and continue to make the stadium a place of pride for the community. These are still priorities for the district, and we will now explore options to meet these goals,” Dr. Zircher said in the statement.
Putting in a turf field would also have allowed more teams to play there, like boys’ and girls’ soccer.
But it’s a crippling blow to the football team, a program which has been struggling in recent years due to low numbers and changing demographics. They finished 0-9 this season, and are 5-25 since the shortened 2020 COVID season.
The Rams were able to play all of their home games as scheduled, but could not use the main grandstand, or the press box, which is two-levels, and accommodates public address, local cable TV, and assistant coaches.
Fans sat in temporary bleachers on the other side of the field.
Even had the referendum passed, there was no guarantee the new Bill Denny Stadium would be built in time to use in 2024, but its rejection further sets the project back, and it could be years before a full crowd is able to see a South River game.
Bill Denny Stadium was built in 1934, and is constructed almost entirely of wood. The Rams played there with the grandstand open in 2022, but this past spring, the facility was condemned by the Board of Ed and shut down, with only the track, field, concession stand and visitors’ bleachers still usable.