UPDATED Dec. 1: The simple cinder-block concession stand next to Pierce Field has been closed since mid-September for sanitary reasons, but it reopened for the Thanksgiving football face-off between Arlington High and Arlington Catholic, won by the Ponders, 28-7.
New health guidelines for the stand were to be in place before the reopening. They include pest control, cleaning and restricting foods served.
Superintendent Kathleen Bodie confirmed the reopening, writing Nov. 21 that "while there are some additional repairs that need to be made, the stand is ready to open. Going forward, the food that can be served are prepackaged snack products (i.e., cereal bars, etc.) in addition to water, hot chocolate and coffee/tea."
That leaves out grilled food, which was the apparent target of scrutiny after the School Department had the stand padlocked before the first home game, against Stoneham on Sept. 16.
This is a story that has taken a while to develop after a resident brought the stand's closing to YourAlington's attention on Sept. 30. "It would be interesting to look into why the heath department shut down the AHS concession stand a few weeks ago and how the town/school is working to wrestle control away from the volunteer-run booster clubs, charge fees, etc. Locks were changed and equipment owned by the booster clubs (not the town) is inaccessible."
Inquiries with a variety of officials reveal a story that some were not eager to tell as well as clarifications about the initial tip. That is, the School Department closed the stand, not the Health Department.
Public health eyed
Apart from who locked the concession, the action aimed to protect public health.
The stand must "be exterminated and thoroughly sanitized before it can be reopened," Bodie wrote in an email in October. "There are also some repairs that need to be made, some before reopening, and some that can wait.
"I expect that the work needed to be done can be completed in the next few weeks. We will also be issuing new guidelines about the type of food that can be served from it when it reopens."
Reopening took longer than expected, and it's been a tough fall for Spy Ponder football fans, who endured nine straight losses to start the season, a poor sound system and no food for sale at games.
The Friday-night downers began Sept. 16, when the young AHS football team ran into a 35-6 thrashing by Stoneham, and the fans faced a closed concession.
A parent who did not want to identified because of his connection to AHS sports provided further background: "To pile on, the whole situation is a mess. One of the speakers used to announce games blew (sparks and smoke) the first week of school, so nothing can be heard on the field or on the visitors' side." During the Sept. 30 Winchester game, parents on the opponent's side commented, "How would we know we won? There's no PA system."
Others were in the dark Sept. 30 as lights were not working in the press box, so "half the home stand were in darkness throughout the game."
A number of improvements to these issues have since been made, including a volunteer sound-system effort from an AHS grad who runs a local DJ business.
During that time, YourArlington reached out to a number of people in a position to know why the concession stand closed.
Melissa Dlugolecki, director of athletics at AHS, said Oct. 3 that recommendations made to the district from the Board of Health, which is preparing a list for the district, and the district hopes to have it reopened within the next few weeks. She referred the questioner to Ruthy Bennett, director of facilities, or Bodie.
Bennett responded two days later: "Please get in touch with Superintendent Bodie for information regarding your questions below."
Christine Bongiorno, town director of Health and Human Services, was also asked about it. She responded Oct. 4 that the School Departnent contacted her last November about the concession. "At that time, it was unclear to this office who would be responsible for managing the concession stand and who would ultimately hold the permit," she wrote. Her department asked the school administration to "identify a responsible party and notify us when they had that in place in order to start the permitting process. This office was not involved with closing or locking the concession stand this year."
Two days later, Bodie responded, saying sanitation issues closed the concession and that it had to be "exterminated and thoroughly sanitized" before reopening
Health Department response
After exchanging a series of emails with Bodie in an attempt to flesh out details of the story, Bongiorno was asked whether a report about the concession stand was available for review. She responded Oct. 27:
"The Health Department was not involved in the closure of the concession stand in September. The School Department contacted this office in October to request a list of recommendations for improvements in order to be able to obtain a permit.
"The inspector from this office visited the concession stand on Oct 6th and provided the following list of items that should be done in order to obtain a permit. Below is text from the email from the inspector to the school department:
"'We recommend that the following items be addressed first, including:
"'Cleaning and Sanitizing all equipment, floors and contact surfaces
"'Sealing the floors and walls so that they smooth, cleanable and washable surfaces
"'Removing unnecessary equipment
"'Restricting the types of prepared food items to include only low-risk items (hot dogs, packaged and bottled items)
"'The other items, such as replacing the tables and installing the additional sink may take longer to coordinate, therefore we will be flexible and see no reason why the facility could not operate while this is being addressed. We understand that a lot of groups want to use this space and the Health Department would not want to prohibit its use unnecessarily.'"
Asked when Health Deportment rules under which groups may use the stand in the future will be available, Bongiorno wrote Nov. 1: "We will be providing guidance to the School Department in regards to developing concession stand guidelines, but the School Department will ultimately be responsible for setting these policies and procedures for user groups."
Control at issue
Then there is the issue of control over a concession managed by volunteer sports groups raised in the initial tip.
A parent who wished to remain unidentified offered this history: "About a year ago the school (and I don't know if this was the AD, SC or finance) decided that they wanted to operate the concession and start charging fees for its use, including a custodian fee.
"Each sport has its own booster club, usually run by that year's captains parents and previously the concession was used during home games as a fund-raiser. The new working setup was that another sports team, say girls' field hockey, would run the concession during a home football or soccer game and keep the proceeds, minus the fees charged by the school ....
"This brings up another point. Much of the equipment in the facility is NOT owned by the town or school and was fund-raised and/or donated by various groups over the years .... If the town is going to take this over and operate it at a cost to users, I would be interested in seeing the equipment removed and sold with proceeds to be distributed back to the clubs or selling it to the town."
Asked why the School Committee decided last November to take over management of the stand from the clubs, Bodie responded Oct. 18: "The discussion about who will have oversight of the concession stand began when the School Department was developing updated fee structures for the use of the field (which require School Committee's approval).
"A strong concern for both the School Department and field users was that a plan be developed to maintain the new turf field so that it would remain in good condition for its expected life. A plan was developed that included regular maintenance and monitoring during use.
"The concession stand was not identified as a use that would require a fee. However, there was concern expressed even at that time about the stand's maintenance, and recently, the cleanliness of its interior."
Asked who has managed the stand over time, she responded Oct. 25: "I do not believe that anyone or group in particular managed the structure. Custodians on detail cleaned the bathrooms, but not the interior of the stand.
"Many groups had keys to the stand and opened it for their use. It was expected that users would leave the stand in good condition. Unfortunately, it was not in good condition this summer."
Asked whether there been similar sanitary issues before with the stand, before it closed in September, she wrote: "Not that I am aware of, but I do not believe that the concession stand had been inspected before."
A parent who did not want to be identified said the consistent users of the stand have been Pop Warner, Spy Ponder Football Booster Club (AHS football), Arlington Youth Lacrosse, Arlington girls' lacrosse (youth), AHS boys' soccer, AHS girls' soccer (during the playoffs) and Arlington Catholic before the school decided last summer to play its home games at Hormel Field in Medford rather than at Pierce.
Paul Cahill, of the Spy Ponder football club, wrote Nov. 21 that his club "as well as various youth organizations, including Arlington Pop Warner, no longer use the concession stand due to the high fees. I am told the concession stand, which was maintained and provisioned by those organizations, had fallen into disrepair. I cannot speak of the present condition of the facility."
As to fees, a parent wrote that he does not know the exact new schedule, "but on slow rainy nights, a user may only make $150 or $200 ... not worth the effort and work if an organization needs to pay $100 or $125 in fees to the school."
Asked whether fees are charged to use the concession stand, Bodie responded Thursday, Dec. 1.
"There is no fee for use of the concession stand. Users must request concession stand usage in order for the stand to be unlocked for their event.
" We charge users for custodial/maintenance and monitor services."
This news report, developed over seven weeks, was published Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016, and updated Dec. 1, to add comment about fees.
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